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Coughing assault reports made in Grass Valley, Nevada City

The controversy over the wearing of masks due to COVID-19 is not just restricted to local restaurants.

A number of residents have complained on social media about confrontations over their decision to wear masks. And earlier this month, two separate police reports were filed in Nevada City and Grass Valley, respectively, when people who refused to wear a mask allegedly coughed on the victims.

In both cases, the victims told The Union the assaults occurred after they asked someone not wearing a mask to put their mask on.

Shannon Snow was shopping at BriarPatch on July 14, and noted the store had been limiting shoppers and handing out masks at the door. She said she had to pass a couple with a child who were unmasked, and asked them to put their masks on.

The woman put on her mask, Snow said, but the man only covered his mouth.

“I asked him to also cover his nose,” she said, adding that he began yelling “about his personal freedoms and how I was a ‘sheeple.’”

The woman then accosted Snow verbally as she was checking out, initially refusing to move away despite requests by Snow and a store employee.

Snow said that as she was walking to her car, she saw the man outside and he began shouting at her.

“It seemed he was circling me, and I became very afraid,” she said. “He came closer, leaned toward me and started forcefully coughing in my direction.”

Snow said she went into panic mode and decided to hold her breath and get into her car as quickly as possible.

Snow later decided to make a police report, saying she considered being coughed on an assault. Snow and her husband have been in “lockdown” since early March and have been very cautious about limiting their exposure to COVID-19.

“I’m glad I made a stand,” she said. “This is highly infectious. We’re in a deadly pandemic … I care about people. I’m a medic. I’m a mom, I’m a grandma, I’m an EMT, I’m a preschool teacher, and I know how important this is. I care about not just me, but about everybody.”

A few days later, after she had a fever, Snow went to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. Her COVID-19 test was negative, she said, adding she found out she had an infection and severe dehydration.

“What if it had been (COVID)?” she said. “Would my assailant be charged with attempted murder?”

On Thursday, Grass Valley Police Lt. Joe Matteoni said the investigation remains open, but the incident could not be seen on surveillance video and the suspects could not be identified.

A report made in Nevada City the following day also remains stalled out, said Nevada City Police Lt. Paul Rohde.

Louis Ceci said he was on the corner of Broad and Union streets when he got into a confrontation with a couple standing at the intersection. They were not wearing masks and refused to move aside to let him pass, he said.

“I will be 70 years old in less than two months,” Ceci said. “I am considered to be in a ‘high risk of infection’ category.”

When they began complaining that he was harassing them and said they were going to call the police, he started filming the incident on his cellphone.

As they left, the woman turned to Ceci and told him she has “Corona.” She then walked past him, deliberately coughing at him. As she left, she called him a homophobic slur, Ceci said.

And that was what pushed him into reporting the incident, he said.

“If it had just been disrespect, I would have let it go,” Ceci said. “The added slur made it an attack on a community, not just an individual.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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