- A Kansas Republican told other county commissioners that he didn't think there was a coronavirus issue locally because there were few Chinese people in the area.
- The mayor of nearby Manhattan, Kansas, called the comments "obviously racist" and false.
- The coronavirus pandemic has sparked an uptick in racist incidents against Asian Americans.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Marvin Rodriquez, chairman of the Riley County Commission in Kansas, told fellow officials and the Kansas City Star that coronavirus wasn't a local problem because there weren't a lot of Chinese people living there.
Rodriguez' comments drew criticism from the mayor of Manhattan, Kansas, who called his comments "obviously racist" and false.
Mayor Usha Reddi, who attended the county meeting, paraphrased the commissioners' comments in a Facebook post: "We have zero cases," she quoted him as saying. "I don't think it's a problem here. In Italy they have a lot of Chinese and that's why they have the virus. We don't have that problem here."
In a follow-up interview with The Star editorial board, Rodriguez doubled down.
"I have a friend in the Navy, and he said in that area" — where Italy's first cases were reported — "there's a garment industry and a lot of Chinese. If we were like Italy, we'd have it already," Rodriguez allegedly told The Star.
'COVID-19 can be spread by anyone regardless of race'
Aside from incorrectly pinning an entire pandemic, which has now spread to more than 150 countries, on one country, Rodriguez's comments also downplay the threat of the coronavirus in Kansas, which has already seen at least 36 cases.
"Let's be clear, COVID-19 can be spread by anyone regardless of race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status," Reddi wrote. "And it is in our community."
There has been a wave of irresponsible rhetoric that has grown out the coronavirus crisis.
While the virus likely originated in Wuhan, China, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has fought back against identifying COVID-19 as Chinese.
Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified in a congressional hearing earlier in March that he agreed it was inappropriate to describe the virus as the "Chinese coronavirus" because it had spread across the world.
"Public health emergencies … are stressful times for people and communities," the CDC wrote on its website. "Fear and anxiety about a disease can lead to social stigma toward people, places, or things."
The website goes on to say that stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate a disease with a specific nationality, "even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease."
Hate crimes triggered by coronavirus
Several hate crimes and acts of discriminatory behavior against Asian Americans were documented across the US in recent weeks.
In New York, an Asian man alleged that a 44-year-old man screamed at him on Saturday for not wearing a mask while he was walking with his 10-year-old son in New York, the New York Post reported.
"The guy walked past us. That triggered him. He was screaming at us and said, 'Where the f— is your mask?'" the man said to the Post.
Los Angeles, which has the largest Asian community in the US, has also seen an uptick in alleged hate incidents. "We're not going to stand for hate," Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis told reporters at a news conference.
The problem has become such a threat that there has also been a surge of Asian Americans buying guns in fear of being attacked.
Rodriguez didn't immediately return Insider's call for comment.
GOP chair says the county is taking coronavirus seriously
John Ball, who is chairman of the Riley County Republicans, told Insider that he wasn't familiar enough with Rodriguez statement to comment on it, but that he hadn't heard of any hate incidents against Asian Americans locally.
Ball said that he believes the county is taking the threat of coronavirus seriously. Schools, church services, and community events have been cancelled.
The local republican organization has decided not to host public outings.
"We usually do a monthly coffee talk, it's a relative small group, but we cancelled," he said. "The best thing to do is trying to prevent something before it starts."
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