Man Who Gave Cancer Patient in Walmart 'COVID Hug' Wanted by Police

Massachusetts police are searching for a man who allegedly gave multiple people, including a cancer survivor, involuntary "COVID hugs" at a local Walmart.

Police say the unidentified man forced himself on shoppers at a Walmart located on Boston road in Springfield, Massachusetts at around 7:10 p.m. on August 15. A surveillance photo of the masked man was included in a social media post appealing for tips.

"This suspect took an item out of a victims hands and then gave him a hug," the Springfield Police Department wrote in a Friday Facebook post. "He told the victim 'Just giving you a Covid hug. You now have Covid.' The suspect then started laughing and walked away. The victim, who is a cancer survivor, had never seen the suspect before. This suspect had done this to other customers as well."

The Springfield Police Detective Bureau is seeking your help to identify this individual from an incident at the Walmart...

Posted by Springfield Police Department on Friday, August 21, 2020

Newsweek reached out to the Springfield Police Department for additional information and comment.

The incident was the latest in a series reports of people who claim to be infected with the virus making involuntary contact with others with the stated aim of deliberately infecting them. Although incidents have occurred since early in the pandemic at many different locations across the U.S., Walmart stores have featured in several.

A couple were arrested last month in Yuma, Arizona after they refused to adhere to store policy by wearing face masks and "became confrontational" towards Walmart employees. They proceeded to then allegedly intentionally cough on employees before fleeing from police. One suspect is also said to have attempted to fight officers while being arrested.

Walmart store
A Walmart logo is seen outside a store in Washington, D.C. on August 18, 2020. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty

Two man dressed in hazmat suits entered a Las Vegas, Nevada Walmart in March and sprayed shoppers with an unknown "clear liquid," which was later identified as water. None of those involved were believed to have developed any symptoms or suffered any injuries. Police tracked down and arrested the men, who they said had hatched the plan in an attempt to gain notoriety on social media.

In April, a Tennessee man was arrested and charged with violating the terrorism hoax act after allegedly coughing on Walmart customers while shouting that he was infected with the virus. He was sentenced to 120 days in jail and 3 years of probation after pleading guilty.

Although many may intend to scare victims without genuinely spreading infection, authorities believe the incidents are serious crimes, some of which could be eligible for federal prosecution on terrorism charges. Given the fact that over 5.7 million people in the U.S. have been infected with COVID-19, it is plausible that some of the cases could involve perpetrators that carry the virus, even if it is not clear how many of the incidents could have resulted in new infections.