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As Coronavirus Fears Incite Violence, CAPAC Members Urge Colleagues to Not Stoke Xenophobia

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WASHINGTON — Since the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), there has been a surge in reports of discrimination and violent attacks against Asian Americans across the country.

Many of these attacks have been inspired and fueled by misinformation, including misconceptions that Asians are more likely to carry and spread the virus, or conspiracy theories that China created COVID-19 in a lab.

On Feb. 26, members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus sent a letter led by CAPAC Chair Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena) to fellow members of Congress urging them to help stop the spread of xenophobia and misinformation by only sharing confirmed and verifiable information pertaining to COVID-19, how it spreads, and how Americans should protect themselves.

“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. We therefore encourage all members of Congress to share only confirmed and verifiable information about COVID-19 and dispel misinformation,” wrote the members.

“Let us be clear: 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. But sharing inaccurate information or unconfirmed reports runs the risk of increasing fears and inciting violence.

“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.”

The letter was also signed by Reps. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Mark Takano (D-Riverside), Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Gilbert Cisneros, Jr. (D-Fullerton), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), Al Green (D-Texas), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ro Khanna (D-Santa Clara), Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Carson), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), Grace Napolitano (D-El Monte), Katie Porter (D-Irvine), Linda Sánchez (D-Norwalk), and Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo).

The text of the letter is included below:

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Dear Colleague:

As members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), we write to urge all members of Congress to help us prevent hysteria, ignorant attacks, and racist assaults that have been fueled by misinformation pertaining to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

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. We therefore encourage all members of Congress to share only confirmed and verifiable information about COVID-19 and dispel misinformation.

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.

Asian-owned businesses have also been negatively impacted due to fraudulent flyers purporting to come from the World Health Organization urging residents to avoid Asian American restaurants and businesses due to COVID-19.

The risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 is not from 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.”

Person-to-person spread of COVID-19 has been seen in the United States among close contacts – such as spouses – of returned travelers from Wuhan, China, but at this time, this virus is not currently spreading in the community in the United States.

Despite that fact, Asian Americans have been targets of suspicion and, in some cases, violence. For instance, in New York, a woman on the subway was attacked by someone calling her a “diseased b****” because she wore a face mask. In Indiana, two Hmong guests checking in at a hotel were told that Asians were not welcome. And in California, a 16-year-old high school student was sent to the emergency room after being attacked by bullies who accused him of having the coronavirus simply because of his ethnicity.

Even just looking Asian has been enough to incite attackers to hurl insults and accuse individuals of being disease carriers. With the proper guidance from members of Congress and other public officials, these kinds of attacks can be avoided.

However, we have been 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, but that has not stopped some from spreading this rumor, which serves only to create mistrust and fear of China and those perceived to be of Chinese ethnicity.

Let us be clear: 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.

But sharing inaccurate information or unconfirmed reports runs the risk of increasing fears and inciting violence. 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.

The best way to stop the spread of coronavirus is to wash your hands, not perpetuate racist stereotypes. We ask for your help in spreading this message, to help stem both the public health crisis and the deeply disturbing racism targeting the Asian American community.

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