- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A New Jersey woman has been charged with causing a false public alarm after she told police last week she was infected with the coronavirus and coughed on officers, Hanover police said Wednesday.

She is the second person to be charged with falsely reporting that they were infected with the coronavirus. The arrest predates a separate case in Texas, which was made public earlier this week.

Lea Piazza, 28, of Wayne, New Jersey, was arrested last week following a motor-vehicle crash in which she was suspected of driving while intoxicated, according to a press release by the Hanover Police Department.

While being processed on March 12, Ms. Piazza purposely coughed on the two arresting two officers and said, “Oh, by the way, I have the coronavirus and so do you now,” according to the department.

Ms. Piazza also falsely told police that her boyfriend had the virus and had been hospitalized for treatment, the Hanover Police said.

Ms. Piazza came into contact with three officers during her arrest, prompting the department to notify local health offices and self-quarantine the officers.

“We are not a big department and if we lose three guys for a period of time, that has a big impact because we lose almost 10 percent of our force,” Hanover Police Capt. Dave White told The Washington Times. “That is a big hit for a small town.”

“Not only are you taxing your department, but the towns next to you have to pick up the slack,” Capt. White continued. “It’s not like we have spare police.”

Officers said they later determined that her comments about the virus were “100 percent false.”

Ms. Piazza was charged with driving while intoxicated for the one-car crash, careless driving, reckless driving and refusal to take a breath test. She faces additional charges of causing a false public alarm for her coronavirus claims.

“I’m hoping people use common sense and don’t play games because it is not good for anyone,” Capt. White said. “We have to follow all these accusations to make sure they are not true, but if they are true, we are going to have to deal with that as well.”

On Tuesday, prosecutors in Texas announced charges against an unidentified individual for falsely claiming in a social media post they were infected with the coronavirus.

Capt. White said there was no particular reason for the delay in announcing Ms. Piazza’s arrest beyond that he was working on other things.

He urged people to use common sense.

“We have just one [false coronavirus reporting case] so far, and I am hoping people use common sense,” Capt. White told The Times. “Why make a bad situation worse? She was here for a DWI and now has a causing a false public alarm charge.”

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