COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina man is facing charges after authorities say he lied about having the new coronavirus, causing a business to shut down and creating panic in a school system.
Jeffrey Travis Long, 31, of Inman, was arrested Thursday and charged with breach of peace and forgery, Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said during a news conference.
The sheriff said Long worked at Sitel Corporation, a call center in Spartanburg County. According to an incident report, Long showed his employer a forged doctor’s excuse from a VA hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, purportedly showing he had tested positive for COVID-19.
That prompted Sitel to shut down its facility for several days for sanitizing. According to authorities, Long also visited a school his children attend, causing officials there to worry that other children and families had been exposed.
“I don’t know the dollar number it cost to disinfect their whole entire building, but it was a large number,” Wright said. “It wasn’t a hundred bucks. It was more than that.”
Hospital officials told investigators they had not seen Long within the previous two weeks, and his note did not have an official stamp from the facility, Wright said. According to Inman Police Chief Keith Tucker, the hospital Long claimed to have seen him was not even conducting COVID-19 tests at the time.
Authorities said Long was arrested and booked into the Spartanburg County Detention Center. It wasn’t known if he had an attorney, and arrest warrants did not list a phone number.
“It seems to me like the fella just wanted a two-week, paid vacation,” Wright said. “You can’t do this to people.”
As of Friday, South Carolina had reported a total of 125 COVID-19 cases across the state, with two new deaths, bringing the statewide total to three. According to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, both of the patients were elderly and had underlying health conditions.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of victims recover.
The ongoing outbreak has had economic impacts in the state as well. On Thursday, Bridgestone Americas announced it was shutting down its manufacturing facilities in North America, which includes two tire plants in Aiken County. In a news release, Bridgestone said the shutdown would run from March 21 through April 12.
Officials with the South Carolina Department of Commerce said Friday that small businesses in the state “suffering substantial economic injury” resulting from the virus outbreak would be eligible to apply for low-interest federal disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.