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86-year-old patient dies after possible ‘social distancing’-related assault in N.Y. hospital, police say

An ambulance speeds at night on an urgent call in Manhattan. (iStock)
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An 86-year-old woman died following a confrontation at a Brooklyn hospital on Saturday in an attack that police say may have been motivated by a perceived “social distancing” dispute.

The elderly woman and her alleged attacker, 32-year-old Cassandra Lundy, were patients at Woodhull Medical Center, said New York Police Department spokesman Lt. Thomas Antonetti.

The patients were in the emergency room hallway about 2 p.m. when Lundy claimed the elderly woman got too close to her, reportedly saying she was “in my face," according to police.

Lundy shoved the 86-year-old to the ground, Antonetti said. The elderly patient hit her head on the floor, causing her to lose consciousness, he said. She died several hours later. Authorities have not yet released her name or the reasons either patient was in the hospital.

Antonetti said the “overriding belief” is that Lundy snapped because she didn’t think the victim was following “social distancing guidelines,” which he added is still under investigation.

So far, however, Lundy is not charged in relation to the victim’s death. Before the victim died, hospital police cited Lundy for disorderly conduct, issued her a summons and escorted her off the property, Antonetti said. Lundy could not be reached for comment.

By the time NYPD arrived hours later around 8:30 p.m., responding to a 911 call to report the incident, Lundy had already gone home. Antonetti said police are awaiting a ruling from the medical examiner on the cause of death.

It’s unclear why the hospital waited to call NYPD. A spokeswoman for New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation said that the public hospital was “terribly saddened” by the victim’s death, though did not answer additional questions, citing patient confidentiality laws.

“We are committed to ensuring a safe, health-focused environment in these very demanding times so our heroic health care workers can continue to deliver the quality, compassionate care New Yorkers need more than ever,” the statement said. “We are collaborating with the NYPD in their investigation.”

Those who knew the victim told the New York Daily News, which reported the woman’s death Sunday, that she was a longtime Williamsburg resident who helped establish the neighborhood’s Sunshine Community Garden in the early 1990s. One neighbor said they bonded over their shared experience growing up in the South, and said she was shocked that her friend had been taken so quickly and unexpectedly.

“It just goes to show, you never know,” the neighbor, 87-year-old Eartha Calloway, told the Daily News. “You don’t ever know what’s going to happen to you. You could be walking down the hall and someone hits you in the hospital.”

Across the country, police have reported at least a few cases of spontaneous social-distancing assaults as Americans adjust to the radical change in social norms — although apparently none resulting in death.

Social distancing guidelines, which vary by state, include staying home as much as possible, avoiding social gatherings of 10 or more people and staying six feet away from others. Some people have turned to “quarantine shaming” to ensure the rules are followed.

Some have reportedly been attacked even when they asked politely.

In San Jose, police said a jogger asked a teenage boy who ran up behind her too closely on the trail to remember to keep an appropriate distance from others, the Mercury News reported last week. Police said the teenage boy and two other adults returned to push her, and spit and cough on her before swatting her with a hat.

“Now I’m scared to go running outside my own home,” the woman wrote in a post about the incident on the neighborhood app Nextdoor.

In Houston, one man became impatient with a local dollar store’s social distancing rules and ended up arrested for assault. The store had asked customers to wait in line outside, allowing only 10 in the store at a time, KTRK reported. When Carlos Beal got to the front of the line but was not immediately let inside, he grew angry and hit two employees in the head who were trying to prevent him from entering, according to police.

“We were just doing crowd control, trying to control how many people were in the store,” employee Regina Jackson told KTRK, adding that she quit after being placed on leave for picking up a knife during the confrontation.