Shopper Charged for Coughing on Grocery Store Employee, Claiming COVID Diagnosis

A Lower Makefield man has been charged with terroristic threats and related misdemeanors for coughing on a grocery store cashier and telling the employee he had just tested positive for COVID-19.

James Edelstein, 75, of the 2000 block of East Wellington Road, also faces counts of simple assault and disorderly conduct as well as a summary harassment charge for the April 28 incident at Redner’s Market along Lincoln Highway in Middletown Township.

“I am proud of the way 99% of our citizens have handled themselves during this pandemic.  The vast majority of us have adapted our behavior, followed the rules and treated each other with respect,” said Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub. “But whenever anyone seeks to weaponize this virus in order to terrorize another person just trying to do their job, we will prosecute him.  We will protect our people serving us on the front lines by showing zero tolerance for criminal behavior like this.”

According to a criminal complaint filed earlier this week, Edelstein was standing about three feet from the victim when he removed his face mask and “coughed loudly” in her direction.

He told the woman “I just tested positive or COVID. Hope I do not spread my germs,” the complaint says, and then left the store.

Prior to the coughing incident, Edelstein had been waiting on a bench near the victim’s cash register, demanding to speak to a manager after complaining that another employee did not place Edelstein’s bags in his cart.

Edelstein told a Middletown Township Police officer he “wanted to cause a scene” to express his anger, the complaint says. “These kids had an education about an unhappy customer. I am happy I caused a disturbance and disrupted the flow of things.”

Edelstein has not been arrested, but was instead charged via summons issued Monday.

This incident was investigated by the Middletown Township Police Department.

Contact: James O’Malley, 215.348.6298, jtomalley@buckscounty.org