Amid reports that Asian Americans are increasingly the targets of attacks and discrimination over fears they are more likely to be carrying the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Rep. Judy Chu has called on fellow members of Congress to help stop what she called “hysteria, ignorant attacks and racist assaults that have been fueled by misinformation.’’
The Pasadena Democrat, who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), authored a letter this week urging her Congressional colleagues to help quell such incidents “by only sharing confirmed and verifiable information pertaining to COVID-19, how it spreads, and how Americans should protect themselves.’’
The letter comes at a time of increased reports that Asian Americans have been victims of verbal and physical assaults or denial of services by those fearing the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 — which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, though the specific source there remains unclear.
As CNN reported, one woman riding a Los Angeles train recently was targeted in a verbal assault by a fellow passenger that the woman – of Thai descent – recorded on video. On Feb. 2, an Asian woman wearing a face mask on the New York City subway was physically assaulted by an assailant who reportedly called her “diseased.” In Indiana, two Hmong guests checking into a hotel reportedly were told that Asians were not welcome.
“As elected representatives, we have a responsibility during a public health crisis to use our unique platform to calm our constituents’ fears, not stoke them,’’ said the CAPAC letter, signed by Chu and 22 other House members. “We therefore encourage all members of Congress to share only confirmed and verifiable information about COVID-19 and dispel misinformation.’’
The letter went on to say: “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen a surge of discriminatory rhetoric and violent attacks against Asian Americans across the country. Often the attackers have been inspired by debunked conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus and how it spreads. Others repeat mistaken information, such as claiming that all people from China need to be quarantined for two weeks, when that guidance is actually intended specifically for those returning from a prolonged trip to China, regardless of their ethnic background.’’
The letter stressed that the risk of becoming infected by COVID-19 has nothing to do with ethnicity.
“It is from prolonged exposure to the virus, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has emphasized that while ‘the potential public health threat posed by the virus is high, both globally and in the United States, for the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low,’ ” the letter said.
Chu’s letter said that CAPAC is “disappointed and dismayed that some in Congress continue to push unfounded theories about the disease, including the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was created in a lab in China. Scientists who have studied the make-up of the virus have determined that there are no indications this was designed in a lab.’’
“Let us be clear,’’ the CAPAC letter said. “The dissemination of false information about COVID-19 is dangerous for public health and for American citizens who are increasingly becoming the victims of racist and xenophobic attacks.
“Our constituents are understandably worried about the spread of this disease and are looking to us for guidance and reassurance. … That is why we encourage you to consult with the CDC and the World Health Organization, as well as your local public health agencies, to ensure that your advice to constituents is accurate and does not stoke unfounded fears.”
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County health officials said there is “no reason to panic” locally about the coronavirus.
“The current risk to L.A. County residents for getting COVID-19 is very low” said Dr. Prabhu Gounder, medical director of the county Department of Public Health’s respiratory diseases unit.
“The best things people can do to protect themselves from any respiratory virus, including COVID-19, are the simple, everyday preventative measures such as washing hands, covering your cough and avoiding going out when sick, which is leading the county’s response to the outbreak.’’