Woman intentionally coughs on fresh food in grocery store, police say

‘I have the virus, now you are all going to get sick,’ arrest documents say

A woman purposely coughed on $35,000
worth of food at a Pennsylvania grocery store.
A woman purposely coughed on $35,000 worth of food at a Pennsylvania grocery store. (KSAT)

HANOVER TOWNSHIP, PA – A woman is facing criminal charges for purposely coughing on fresh food inside a grocery store in Pennsylvania, sparking coronavirus fears, police said.

Police in Luzerne County filed charges Thursday morning against Margaret Cirko, 35, of Hanover Township.

Cirko is facing charges of criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, retail theft and terroristic threats.

District Judge Joseph Halesey told Cirko the charges she's up against while she was inside a police vehicle.

Police said Cirko went Wednesday afternoon into a Gerrity’s store, where workers said she intentionally coughed on racks of fresh produce, bakery items and the meat case.

According to arrest papers, Cirko said, “I have the virus, now you are all going to get sick,” before coughing on the food displays. She is being held in jail with bail set at $50,000.

Store officials said Cirko is known to them and describe her as a nuisance.

Authorities do not believe the Cirko is infected with COVID-19, but she was taken to a hospital to be tested as a precaution and also underwent a mental evaluation.

“First thought went to the thought that we’re going to have to throw out all this food that’s so hard to get right now," said Gerrity’s co-owner Joe Fasula. "I mean, produce hasn’t been that bad, but the price of produce is going up quite a bit. And when it comes to all the different grocery items, it’s so hard. Right now, it’s the worst time in the world to be throwing food away,”

Gerrity's posted photos on Facebook of empty shelves as crews cleared out the damaged goods.

The loss is estimated at more than $35,000, including organic produce, bakery items, and meats, as well as employees sanitizing the shelves.

“Our crew came in around 4 a.m. this morning. They have all worked so hard, and they’ve been here ever since. They’re almost done now. Everything was totally cleaned, totally disinfected. Everything is very safe,” Fasula said.

The shelves have been restocked thanks to support from the suppliers of the store. Fasula also received a lot of support from the community and around the world.

“This took on a life all on its own. We’ve been contacted by a newspaper in London. People have called from Germany asking if they can help. A lady asked if she could buy gift cards from us from Georgia. It’s amazing,” he said.

Fasula said what is also amazing is the dedication of his employees, especially when an already hard time was made worse.

“I spend most of my time walking around, yelling at them to go home just to get them some time off. But as soon as this happened yesterday, they all jumped in. They did everything they possibly could to get the product out, get the case emptied, get the case cleaned and sanitized,” he said.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.