WASHINGTON – In a press conference outside the Capitol Friday morning, Asian American lawmakers called on their colleagues and the American public not to spread “xenophobia” or “rumors” in their response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, slammed “fake news meant to create fear” and “rumors directed at Chinese Americans” stemming from misinformation about the outbreak.
The California Democrat showed reporters a falsified flyer that had circulated in her district with the logos of the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health that instructed residents to boycott certain Asian-owned businesses
According to Chu, business was down 50% in restaurants in her majority-Asian district in the San Gabriel Valley outside Los Angeles.
The lawmakers, health experts, and community advocates assembled for the press conference emphasized that the virus, which has been named COVID-19, was spread by exposure to infected individuals, not ethnicity.
Mitch Wolfe, chief medical officer at the CDC, told reporters, “stigma is the enemy of public health.”
“Ethnicity is not a risk factor,” Wolfe added.
Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., whose Queens, New York, district is 40% Asian American, said, “there have been restaurants that have already been shut down because of poor business.”
Rita Pin Ahrens, the executive director of Asian American advocacy group OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, which has local chapters all over the country, said “rampant misinformation” has emerged since the outbreak began.
“Across the country, our chapters are reporting diminished patronage to Asian American-owned businesses, from restaurants to grocery stores, to nail salons and to other places and forcing owners into financial crisis and sending workers home,” she said.
According to Pin Ahrens, business at Jusgo Grocery, an Asian grocery store in Houston, was down 80%, and down 50 to 75% at restaurants in the area.
Earlier this week, in response to a “surge of discriminatory rhetoric and violent attacks against Asian Americans,” the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus also circulated a letter to colleagues in Congress calling on them to “share only confirmed and verifiable information” and “dispel misinformation” about the virus outbreak.
The letter referenced comments by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who had suggested in a Fox News interview the virus had originated in a Chinese lab, a claim Rep. Chu told reporters Friday “reinforces a narrative that China is an enemy, which puts Chinese Americans particularly at risk.”
Factcheck.org found “no evidence exists” to support such a claim about the origin of the virus.
“The best way to stop the spread of coronavirus is to wash your hands, not perpetuate racist stereotypes,” the lawmakers concluded in their letter.