A document signed Wednesday by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and sent out to law enforcement across the country declares: “coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of ‘biological agent’ under 18 U.S.C.,” which means that those who knowingly spread it could face terrorism-related charges.
“Threats or attempts to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated,” the memo went on, as reported by MailOnline.
The Justice Department memo comes one day after a New Jersey man was charged with making terrorist threats after he allegedly coughed on a supermarket worker after saying he was infected with coronavirus.
George Falcone, 50, faces charges of terrorist threats in the third degree over the encounter, according to the office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
The third-degree terrorism charge carries a sentence of three to five years in state prison. Falcone denies he has the virus, and has denied he coughed on the supermarket worker.
Several other incidents have been reported in the U.S. involving people who knew they were infected with COVID-19 exposing themselves to others.
Earlier in March a woman flew from Boston to Beijing, with a layover in Los Angeles, while allegedly concealing coronavirus symptoms. The Chinese citizen, 37, is accused of taking anti-fever medicine at LAX to suppress her temperature before boarding the 13-hour flight back to her homeland with her family.
She tested positive for COVID-19 in China, and now faces up to three years in prison there for possibly infecting others on her flights and at the various airports she passed through.
An elderly person also recently took a JetBlue flight from New York to Palm Beach, Fla., reportedly while awaiting the results of a coronavirus test. Upon arriving in Florida, he told airline crew that he had tested positive for the virus. He has not been charged.
The Justice Department does not make explicit whether perpetrators must actually have a confirmation of a COVID-19 diagnosis to be charged with terrorism-related crimes.