At a time when the US is going through a grave health crisis due to the outbreak of COVID-19, pranks at the cost of the disease are the last thing Americans would appreciate. Two teenagers from Purcellville, Virginia, unfortunately, did exactly this.
According to a statement released by the Purcellville Police Department on Facebook on 19 March 2020, the two teenagers were allegedly caught coughing on the produce that was on display at a store in the town while filming the act and posting it on social media. The police responded immediately after being notified about the incident.
While urging parents to monitor their children carefully, the authorities stressed that posting such videos was increasingly becoming a trend. "We have learned that this appears to be a disturbing trend on social media across the country, and we ask for help from parents to discourage this behavior immediately," the statement said.
Coughing on purpose
The incident occurred on March 18, 2020, when the two juveniles filmed and posted the video of them reportedly coughing on the produce at a Harris Teeter store, according to the Washington Examiner. They were reportedly caught in the act and the police were informed about the incident. The store removed the "contaminated" items in question and took all necessary measures to ensure the safety of other customers.
Another statement posted by the department on 20 March said that after conducting an investigation, the authorities identified the two juveniles and notified their parents. The youngsters were called in to be interviewed. From the interviews, the police concluded that the youths were coughing into their sleeves as they filmed the act. Reviewing the footage, they found that no actual customer or produce had been coughed upon. "The two juveniles questioned admitted to their involvement, and it was determined that there was no criminal intent," read the statement.
Parents asked to monitor their children
As the two "culprits" are minors, the Purcellville Police Department said it would not disclose their names or release the video footage. Reiterating the request made in the earlier statement, the authorities asked parents to keep an eye on their wards during the school closures in effect due to the growing infection in the US.
"We still ask that parents continue to monitor their children's activities, including social media viewing and posting, and to discourage the promotion of any such fear-inducing behavior," read the statement.
As of now, the US has reported over 32,000 cases and 400 deaths. Several parts of the country are under lockdowns, with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hinting on Sunday at 10-12 weeks of national lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus.
This is not the first time after the outbreak of COVID-19 that youth have used the fear surrounding the disease to pull off pranks on people. In February, much before the current wave of infection that has swept over New York City, two youngsters, 17 and 19, from Queens, created a coronavirus scare on the New York subway. Dressed in hazmat suits and carrying a jar of Kool Aid, the teenagers spilled the liquid in a coach and created panic among fellow travelers.
"That kind of pranking during this particular point in time is offensive and could be dangerous." Pat Foye, Chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), told The Post
In February, two 17-year-old students in Singapore were found to create a similar scare at an NTUC FairPrice supermarket. The youths confessed to taking sips from juice bottles and putting them back on the counters. While one of the students performed the act, the other filmed it and posted it on Instagram, titled "how to spread Wuhan". The youths publicly apologized after receiving backlash for their prank.