SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico woman charged with felony battery after being accused of coughing on a health care worker in a medical center has denied the allegation and said she only lifted her mask at the time.

A criminal complaint filed with the Santa Fe Police Department by the worker claimed that defendant Joy Ebel refused to wear a mask, verbally harassed employees at La Familia Medical Center in Truchas and coughed into the worker’s face.

Police were called to the center on Dec. 3 and Ebel was later charged with battery, authorities said. The worker was not identified.

Ebel has said she did not cough on anyone intentionally and she does not have COVID-19. She claimed the incident started because workers at the clinic did not like how she was wearing her mask.

“I did lift up my mask to breathe, from the bottom, because I have claustrophobia. I lifted it up,” Ebel told KRQE-TV.

Ebel said she was advised to correct her mask and after the fourth time was told she had to leave.


“She said I was breathing on her nose to nose — that’s a lie I would like to see on video,” Ebel told KOAT-TV. “She started to scream hysterically at me. I don’t know if she thought I was going to be hostile, which I was just trying to leave.”

She added: “I did not cough. I did not get in her face. I did not yell.”

La Familia Medical Center was not immediately available to respond to requests for comment by The Associated Press.

Ebel could face a $5,000 fine or up to 18 months in prison if convicted. She is due in court in January.

Ebel said she could not afford to serve jail time since she is a single mother with a 16-year-old daughter.