House speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday defended encouraging visitors to tour San Francisco’s Chinatown in February even as fears grew about the spread of the coronavirus.
Pelosi walked around San Francisco’s Chinatown during the last week of February, visiting businesses owned by Asian Americans.
“That’s what we’re trying to do today is to say everything is fine here,” Pelosi said at the time. “Come because precautions have been taken. The city is on top of the situation.”
During an appearance Sunday on Fox News, host Chris Wallace asked the speaker whether she had “underplayed the threat in the early days” as she has accused President Trump of doing.
“No!” Pelosi responded. “What we were trying to do is end the discrimination, the stigma that was going out against the Asian-American community and in fact, if you will look, the record will show that our Chinatown has been a model of containing and preventing the virus, and I’m confident in our folks there and thought it was necessary to offset some of the things that the president and others were saying about Asian-Americans and making them a target. A target of violence across the country.”
Wallace pressed her, asking whether she contributed to “perception that there wasn’t such a threat generally” by walking around the city “without any masks.”
“I was saying that you should not discriminate against — discriminate against Chinese-Americans, as some in our administration were doing, by the way, they were labeling the flu and that,” Pelosi said.
President Trump briefly referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” defending his use of the term by saying “it comes from China,” but later backed away from the phrase after reports of an uptick in violence against Asian Americans.
In a February 24 video, Pelosi urged people to be “vigilant” about threats in other places, “but we do want to say to people ‘Come to Chinatown.’ Here we are, careful, safe and come join us.”
Two days after Pelosi’s video message, a resident of Solano County, northeast of San Francisco, was reported to have tested positive for the coronavirus, the first documented case that was unrelated to travel abroad or another known case.
Pelosi’s message during the early days of the coronavirus threat encouraging people not to avoid Asian American communities echoed New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s message to New Yorkers less than two weeks earlier that they visit an Asian-American owned small business in their neighborhood.
“New York City’s Chinatowns are open for business!” de Blasio said on February 13, saying Asian American businesses are suffering due to fears about the coronavirus, but “those fears are not based on facts and science. The risk of infection to New Yorkers is low. There is no need to avoid public spaces.”
The first individual in New York who tested positive for the coronavirus was a woman who had visited Iran, which became a hotspot for the virus after the first outbreak in Wuhan spread beyond China’s borders.