Marvin Rodriguez, the Republican chairman of the County Commissioners in Riley County, Kansas, claimed last week that the reason his state isn’t seeing as many cases of coronavirus infection is that they don’t have a large number of Chinese immigrants. Rodriguez compared the state to Italy, claiming that the European country has more Chinese people than Kansas and, as a result, has more cases of COVID-19.
“I’m paraphrasing, but he said we don’t have a problem here because Italy has a lot of Chinese people, and we don’t have that problem here,” Manhattan, Kansas Mayor Usha Reddi told the Kansas City Star.
Rodriguez was speaking at a meeting aimed at declaring a state of emergency in the city of Manhattan. While the measure was ultimately put in place, the GOP politician said that he believes the move is an over-reaction that would ultimately hurt the area’s economy.
After being questioned by a journalist with the Star via telephone, he sought to amend his statements. Rodriguez said that his comment wasn’t meant to be offensive, but that he is aware that Italy has an existing problem with its nationalized health system. On top of that, he claims, a friend in the Navy said that there is a large Asian population in the country.
“There’s a garment industry and a lot of Chinese [in Northern Italy]. If we were like Italy, we’d have it already.”
Being that Kansas, like all U.S. states, already has confirmed COVID-19, Reddi feels that this kind of language makes citizens, specifically Asian-American members of the local community uncomfortable.
When confronted by the Star about the potentially volatile situation his words could create, Rodriguez didn’t respond directly. Instead, he went on to suggest that perhaps China had put the virus out intentionally, though he didn’t expand on why he might think they would do so.
“Well, they say it came out of China,” he said, “and I’m not putting it past the Chinese government in communist China.”
Asked to clarify if he meant that China could have exported a virus on purpose, he responded that the rate of spread seemed suspicious.
“Normally, this kind of thing spreads slowly,” he said, “I put two and two together. I’ve been around a long time, girl.”
In recent days, President Donald Trump has also sought to put blame on China for the coronavirus pandemic. He has repeatedly called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” a term that critics say is both racist and xenophobic.