A man on American Airlines flight 1076 from Dallas to Nashville was arrested on Saturday night after claiming he had the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Police at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport confirmed to PEOPLE that a 72-year-old Kentucky man, George Gjergji, was arrested and taken into custody for falsely reporting an emergency after telling a flight attendant that he had coronavirus.
According to the police report, Gjergji became agitated after the flight attendant had to ask him repeatedly to put his tray table up before takeoff. After her fourth request, the flight attendant says Gjergji held up a clear, plastic bag containing medication and said he needed to take it, shouting “but I have the coronavirus” twice.
The flight attendant then alerted the pilot to Gjergji’s behavior, and the pilot decided to return the plane to the gate.
The passenger showed no symptoms of coronavirus when he was arrested and later admitted to police that he had been lying.
Passengers near Gjergji told police that he “was upset” and was raising his voice at the flight attendant, though they noted it was hard to understand what he was saying due to a language barrier.
One passenger said he heard Gjergji say “coronavirus,” but felt he was trying to tell the flight attendant that he needed to take his medication in order to prevent the virus, not because he already had it.
EMS and police met Gjergji at the gate where he was screened for the virus, but was found to not be displaying any symptoms of the upper respiratory illness, which include fever and cough.
The charges against him were dropped pending further investigation.
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Following the incident, the plane’s crew was skeptical about flying, local Nashville outlet WKRN reported. This combined with crew and maintenance issues, led to the flight being delayed for nearly eight hours total, it reported.
“Right after he was escorted off the plane, one of the cops came back and explained the situation to the people that were sitting near him and kind of spelled it out for us and told us not to worry about it and really was just talking about how he was joking about having the coronavirus,” Brandon Kenney, a passenger on the flight, told WKRN, noting that people had been “freaked out.”
According to the police report, Gjergji “was transported to Baylor Grapevine Hospital” from jail on Sunday morning, exhibiting symptoms such as “coughing, sore throat, tightness of chest, and a slight fever,” which are symptoms of coronavirus. It is unclear whether or not he has since been released from the hospital, or whether he has been tested for the virus.
As of Monday morning, there are at least 3,602 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and 66 people have died.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.