A new viral video shows a woman intentionally coughing on a police officer during her arrest — a sign of the times in the coronavirus pandemic. The clip comes from the officer's body cam footage in the United Kingdom, where the woman was apparently arrested for suspected assault and property damage. As she climbed into the officer's van, she let out a few exaggerated, uncovered coughs in his direction.
The video — published by TMZ — showed a 39-year-old woman named Charlene Merrifield guided into a heavily insulated van by a police officer wearing blue latex gloves. She was questioning why she was being arrested, and arguing with the officer as he listed off the reasons. The officer had been called after Merrifield allegedly attacked a man with a knife, damaged his car and brandished bricks violently around. Still, Merrifield protested angrily as the cop put her into the van. See the video here.
While she did not resist, Merrifield let out a few coughs towards the officer once she was seated in the van. That set off the officer's temper as well, as he threatened to send her to jail before slamming the door. The whole incident took place in South Tyneside, England. Merrifield reportedly did end up in jail after confessing to the assault of an emergency worker, along with other charges. She was sentenced to 21 weeks behind bars.
This is just one of several stories about people weaponizing their coughs and sneezes during the coronavirus pandemic. Stories from the U.S., Canada and other places around the world tell of similar incidents, between authorities and civilians alike. Experts say that coughs and sneezes are the easiest way for COVID-19 to spread. Even speaking close to another person can emit tiny particles of saliva, which can transmit the virus from person to person. Other means of transmission — such as germs lingering on doorknobs — are possible, but less likely.
This is why social distancing remains the most important step to slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Trump administration's social distancing recommendations have now been extended until at least the end of April, but in terms of official shelter-in-place orders, state governors have the final authority.
Some experts say that self-isolation practices will need to go on longer to protect the safety of the American people. One important criteria cited by the CDC is a 14-day period with a consistent decline in overall cases, which no state has managed so far. For the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the websites of the CDC or the World Health Organization.