Teenagers Filmed Themselves Coughing Near Produce and Customers at Grocery Store Amid Coronavirus Panic, Police Say

A pair of teenagers filmed themselves coughing near customers and produce at a grocery store, sparking a police investigation.

The incident occurred at a grocery store in Purcellville, Virginia, last Wednesday and prompted the store to discard some fresh produce amid concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, the Purcellville Police Department said.

In a news release, the police department said officers identified the juveniles involved, notified their parents and questioned them. The two juveniles admitted their involvement, police said, but "it was determined that there was no criminal intent."

An investigation found "the teenagers were getting close to other patrons and coughing into their own sleeves, while filming it on their phones," police said.

Store employees had believed the teenagers were deliberately coughing on produce and quickly discarded some items, but police said the investigation concluded no customers or produce had been coughed or spat on directly.

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A shopper pays for their goods at the Safe Supply outdoor grocery store at Bow Market on March 21, 2020 in Somerville, Massachusetts. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"After viewing the video footage, officers determined no actual customers or produce were spit or coughed on directly, but we appreciate the store's swift action in reporting the incident to police and removing any items in question to ensure the health of store patrons and employees," police said.

Police added that they would not release the footage or name the teenagers as they are minors. They warned parents to monitor their children's activities, including social media use.

"With school closures in effect, this allows for more idle time among children, especially teenagers who are often not supervised as closely," police added.

Police also urged parents to explain to children "why such behavior is wrong, especially given the current situation regarding the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19)."

It comes after a Wisconsin woman allegedly licked the door handle of a grocery store freezer in an attempt to "protest" against the coronavirus pandemic. The incident reportedly occurred as the store manager was disinfecting the freezer door handles at a Festival Foods store in Marshfield, Wisconsin last week.

In another incdent a man dressed in a hazmat suit went into a Walmart store in Las Vegas and sprayed 13 people with an unknown substance.

There are more than 35,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University, and 473 people have died, including two in Virginia.

Globally, the novel coronavirus has sickened more than 350,000 people and killed more than 15,000. More than 100,000 people have recovered.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of March 23.

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This infographic shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases by state as of March 23. Statista

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.