Deliberately coughing on other individuals could lead to criminal charges if the victim becomes infected with a deadly disease like the novel coronavirus COVID-19, according to legal expert Mark Reichel.
Late last month, police in Nevada County said they were trying to track down two individuals who are accused of doing just that.
In at least one case, a woman said two unknown individuals were upset after she encouraged them to wear face masks while shopping at a local grocery store. The two people eventually did put on masks, but one of the two chased the woman into the parking lot of the store, started shouting at her and made coughing noises.
The woman reported the incident to the Grass Valley Police Department. An investigation is now under way into what happened. Officers said if the woman is able to identify the man and it can be proven he acted the way she described, the man could face misdemeanor assault charges.
In an interview with FOX40 News, Mark said that might not be the worst of it for people who deliberately cough on or otherwise try to infect people.
“If it’s an offensive conduct that puts you in reasonable fear of harm, that’s an assault,” Mark said. “If it can be proven somehow that they got it from that person, that they got it from that exposure and they die, the question is do we have a murder case on our hands?”
In California, state law requires individuals to wear face masks, take social distancing measures and engage in other safety practices to curb the spread of COVID-19. More than 10,000 people in California have died from the disease since state officials began tracking it in early March.