Heat on Tillis rises in aftermath of comment about “Hispanic population” and COVID

Senator Thom Tillis

Latinx members of Congress joined a growing chorus of critics taking aim at North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis yesterday in the aftermath of a comment he made in a Tuesday “telephone town hall” meeting. In assessing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Tillis told his audience that “I’m not a scientist and I’m not a statistician, but one of the concerns that we’ve had more recently is that the Hispanic population now constitutes about 44 percent of the positive cases. And we do have some concerns that in the Hispanic population we’ve seen less consistent adherence to social distancing and wearing a mask.”

While it’s true Latinx North Carolinians constitute a disproportionate share of infected individuals, Tillis’ claim that this is attributable to, in effect, irresponsibility on their part, appears to be false and has led to outcries from several individuals that the comment was irresponsible and racist.

This is from a story published this morning by the Washington Post:

“‘This racist BS needs to stop,’ tweeted Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.). ‘Latinos & African Americans are most at risk, dying at higher rates — and STILL going to work every day [because] they are essential workers. Meanwhile, Republican colleagues in Congress are the ones who refuse to use masks.’

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) echoed Escobar’s comments, describing the hardships faced by a number of Hispanics amid the pandemic.

‘We pulled the food, slaughtered the animals, packaged the food that fed America,’ Gallego tweeted. ‘They did it at barely minimum wage and went back homes to big families under one roof [because] that is all they could afford.’

Gallego added that Tillis ‘could never do one full shift at a meat packing factory.’

‘Respect the people that feed America,’ he wrote.”

The Post also reported that a spokesperson for Tillis attempted to walk back the comment by issuing a statement which said that Tillis has been critical of people from “all backgrounds” for not wearing masks.

A June report from the Pew Research Center found that Americans of color, including Latinx people, were actually more likely to wear a mask than white Americans. This finding seems to lend additional weight to the assessments of multiple public health experts, including North Carolina HHS secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, that the above average infection rates for people of color are likely attributable to the riskier working and living conditions with which they must contend.

As the Post story concluded:

“‘You work in cramped spaces for min wage feeding the country and let’s see how you are doing,’ tweeted Eric Garcia, a former independent congressional candidate in California.”

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