A Republican county head in Kansas has come under fire after suggesting that his constituents will likely not face a serious impact of COVID-19 because few Chinese people live there.
Riley County Commission Chairman Marvin Rodriguez, who oversees the Manhattan area, made the statement on a special meeting last Wednesday, which discussed and ultimately declared a local emergency.
“I know that other people are having a great problem. And someone reminded me that in Italy, they have a lot of garment people there, fashionists, and they have a tremendous amount of Chinese there, and that’s where a lot of it started,” said Rodriguez, according to The Manhattan Mercury. “So we don’t necessarily have any (Chinese people), but I think the board would like to make sure that we’re on top of it, and the board will decide on that part.”
Later on, the official reportedly clarified that he used “garment people” and “fashionists” to refer to Chinese people who work in Italy’s fashion industry.
Last Thursday, Italy surpassed China as having the most deaths due to COVID-19. The European nation then announced 793 more deaths Saturday — its highest daily figure since battling the outbreak on Feb. 21.
It did not take long before Rodriguez’s comments drew backlash. In a tweet last Thursday, Manhattan Mayor Usha Reddi slammed them as “false information”:
“Yesterday, a Riley County Commissioner said this (paraphrasing): ‘We have zero cases. 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.’ This needs to stop! This is false information!”
Reddi also noted the “obvious racism” in Rodriguez’s statement and demanded that he “stop the games.”
“Aside from the obvious racism in that comment, let’s be clear, COVID-19 can be spread by anyone regardless of race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status … and it is in our community. Your job is the protect the community. Stop the games.”
Responding to Reddi’s comments, Rodriguez told The Kansas City Star that he “didn’t necessarily say it like that,” while ruminating that Italy’s garment industry is filled with Chinese people.
“Italy has a problem with its health department, first. It’s health for everybody. I have a friend in the Navy, and he said in that area,” Rodriguez said, referring to Northern Italy, where the country had confirmed its first cases, “there’s a garment industry and a lot of Chinese. If we were like Italy, we’d have it already.”
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