The chairman of the Riley County Commissioners suggested this week that the global coronavirus pandemic is not a serious problem locally because unlike in Italy, there are not a lot of Chinese people living in central Kansas, according to two other officials who attended the meeting Wednesday night.
“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 [sic], and they have a tremendous amount of Chinese there, and that’s where a lot of it started,” Rodriguez said at a special county meeting on Wednesday, according the Kansas news agency The Mercury. “So we don’t necessarily have any [Chinese people], but I think the board would like to make sure we’re on top of it, and the board will decide on that part.”
Following those comments, Usha Reddi, mayor of Manhattan, Kansas, took to Twitter to criticize Rodriguez, calling his remarks, “false information,” reports The Kansas City Star.
“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 wrote on Twitter.
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!
— Usha Reddi (@ReddiForSenate) March 19, 2020
Reached by phone, Rodriguez told The Star Editorial Board, “I didn’t necessarily say it like that.” So how did he say it? “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” of Northern Italy where that country’s first cases were reported, “there’s a garment industry and a lot of Chinese. If we were like Italy, we’d have it already.”
Asked whether he understands why it’s dangerous to Asian Americans to talk like that given reports of increased attacks, Rodriguez said: “Well, they say it came out of China, and I’m not putting it past the Chinese government in communist China.”
“Meaning, to export a virus on purpose?” he was asked.
“Normally, this kind of thing spreads slowly,” he answered, so “I put two and two together. I’ve been around a long time, girl.”
He also said that his only public policy goal in saying all of this was to try to discourage panic. “We’re hurting a lot of people in Manhattan” by overreacting, he said. “Places are being shut down for no reason at all.”
“This is false information,” Reddi said of Rodriguez’ remarks. “It’s not keeping the community safe. I felt very uncomfortable” hearing his comments about Chinese people.
Reddi said that in an earlier conversation with Rodriguez, she urged him to take more serious measures to encourage social distancing and self-quarantining, “and he said the way I’m talking about this is Stalin-like.”
John Ford, vice chairman of the Riley County commissioners, said that in the moment, Rodriguez’ remarks really hadn’t really registered. “I didn’t think anything about it, we were discussing so much other stuff. It didn’t sink in. But now, after the fact, I get it … I’m sorry it came to that. I don’t know if it was a slip of the tongue, but I had a lot of other things on my mind.”