Nicholas Freitas, a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates who is running for Congress, is facing backlash after his campaign sold masks on his web site with "COVID-19 made in China" on them.
The red mask was one in a three pack that the campaign sold for $15 on Freitas’ website.
The National Korean American Service and Education Consortium Action Fund, in an open letter, said it was "highly disturbed that Delegate Nick Freitas has decided to bankroll his campaign using a narrative that identifies COVID-19 with China.”
“Blaming China for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States has led to a sharp increase of racially motivated attacks and discrimination against people of Chinese descent and others perceived to be of Chinese descent," the fund said.
Freitas’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The masks are no longer for sale on his website. Freitas is challenging Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a first-term Democrat, in November
His campaign used email and Facebook to advertise the masks.
"China lied! They covered up their role in the spread of this health crisis. Stand up to China NOW by wearing one of our limited-edition face masks. Get yours now," one ad said.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. Facebook removed three of the ads in late May for violating a ban on advertising personal protective equipment that has since been lifted, according to VPM, Virginia’s home to PBS and NPR.
According to an announcement by Stop AAPI Hate in July, over the span of three months there were over 800 discrimination and harassment incidents against Asian Americans in California. Later that month, professor Angela Gover and researchers from Iowa State University and RTI International published a research paper showing how COVID-19 has enabled the spread of racism, xenophobia, national insecurity and fear of foreigners to cause a potential increase in hate crimes toward Asian Americans.
On July 31, Virginia Delegate Mark Cole posted a photo of himself wearing a red "made in China" mask to Twitter.
“I think the backlash is silly and motivated by politics. Saying 'made in China' or calling it the 'Chinese virus' is not racist, but simply identifying where the virus originated,” Cole said in an email. “First, China is a country not a race, and second China tried to hide information and lied about the virus and deserves to be called out because of their actions. Because China lied, thousands of people from all over the world died!”
The WHO issued guidelines against naming diseases after locations to avoid stigmatization.
The National Korean American Service and Education Consortium's letter said Cole’s apparent support “exacerbates anti-Asian racism” and endangers lives.
The letter added that “as someone who wants to become a U.S. Representative, Del. Freitas should spend more time on supporting policies that contain COVID-19 and keep Virginians financially afloat, secure in their homes, and able to seek medical attention as needed, and less time on distracting Virginians with divisive rhetoric.”