Two state nonprofits joined a chorus of voices that took N.C. Senator Thom Tillis to task after he blamed the disproportionate spread of the coronavirus across the state on Latinos for not wearing face masks and improperly social distancing.

Calling Tillis’s claims “misinformation,” Piedmont Rising and Poder NC said in a press call Thursday that the senator’s comments were racist and demanded an apology from the Republican incumbent, who is trailing Democrat challenger Cal Cunningham by more than four points, according to Real Clear Politics.

At a virtual town hall on July 14, Tillis claimed that the state’s Hispanic and Latino members are less likely to wear masks and social distance and are to blame for the spread of the coronavirus in North Carolina. Journalists with Salon obtained a recording of Tillis’s remarks the next day.

“And I will tell you, 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 cases—the positive cases,” Tillis said. “And we do have some concerns that, in the Hispanic population, we’ve seen less consistent adherence to social distancing and wearing a mask.”

As The Washington Post reported, Latino Democratic legislators publicly sounded off on Tillis’s comments, while GOP members in Congress are the ones most resistant to wearing face masks.

“This racist BS needs to stop,” tweeted Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas. “Latinos & African Americans are most at risk, dying at higher rates — and STILL going to work everyday b/c they are essential workers.”

Rep. Rueben Gallego of Arizona said Hispanics “pulled the food, slaughtered the animals, packaged the food that fed America,” while barely earning a minimum wage, only to return home to big families under one roof.

Tillis, Gallego tweeted, “could never do one full shift at a meat packing factory.”

As of Monday afternoon, Hispanics accounted for 43 percent of the state’s 101,046 confirmed coronavirus cases, the NC Department of Health and Human Services reported. But members of the state advocacy groups point to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that belies Tillis’s interpretation of the data. 

In a press release made public the same day Tillis made his claims, the CDC reported that support for wearing masks among a group of 503 surveyed American adults had jumped from about 62 percent in April to more than 76 percent in May. The increase, the CDC reported, was “driven largely by a significant jump in approval by white, non-Hispanic adults,” from 54 percent in April to 75 percent in May. Approval among Black, non-Hispanic adults climbed from 74 percent to 82 percent.

Hispanic and Latino adults, in fact, showed the highest support for wearing masks in April, with 77 percent of those surveyed saying they used a mask the last time they left the house. That number held steady at 76 percent when the follow-up survey was conducted in May.

“The data available makes it really clear that you don’t have to be a statistician or a scientist to understand why these remarks are blatantly false and irresponsible,” Jessica Coscia, a member of Piedmont Rising said in a Thursday press statement. “As a Latina, I am appalled. I am disappointed. This type of misinformation is so irresponsible.”

Irene Godinez of Poder NC called on Tillis to focus on solutions rather than relying on racism to addressing the health crisis.

“To think that on top of surviving this pandemic—the worst in our lifetime—we as Latinos have to now deal with having a target on our backs imposed on us for our mere existence here in North Carolina is shameful and merely racist,” Godinez said.

Fellow Poder NC member Cristal Figueroa said COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Latinos is a consequence of state lawmakers’ “ongoing failures on pandemic relief, PPE, and addressing workplace protections [that] have disproportionately impacted Latinos.”

“The truth is that Latinos have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic due to the lack of resources provided by the government—and that includes you, Senator Tillis. The truth is that Senator Tillis needs to ensure healthcare protections to all North Carolinians and, yes, Senator Tillis—Latinos are North Carolinians.”

Natalia Diez with Piedmont Rising said Tillis has a “history of hurtful comments” that have targeted the state’s Hispanic community. Diez referenced comments Tills made in 2014 when he said white North Carolinians are “the traditional population.”

“I am Latina and I am also a North Carolinian, but Senator Tillis doesn’t consider me so,” Diez said. “And truthfully, it’s really disheartening to hear someone who represents me—who has a responsibility to represent the Latino community—continue to fail in that duty.”

This isn’t the first time Tillis has shared dubious wisdom about public health. In 2015, the senator proclaimed he had “no problem” with restaurant employees not washing their hands as long as the establishments posted a sign declaring they didn’t have to.

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