CLIFTON PARK — Members of the Capital Region’s Chinese community have launched a campaign to collect personal protective equipment and donate it to local hospitals and other professionals on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Chinese Community Center (CCC) distributed 440 masks to first responders in Clifton Park and Ballston Spa on Wednesday.
“We want to let the larger community know we’re in this together,” said CCC President Dr. Li Zhang.
The Latham-based non-profit has acquired 2,500 masks to date and also donated them to local hospitals, including Albany Medical Center, Ellis Hospital and Saratoga Hospital.
Over 100 people are involved with the effort, guiding sourcing, distribution and quality control of the items, mostly N95 models, which were purchased and collected by members, friends and Chinese-American businesses.
New York is the state hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked the federal government to nationalize the manufacture of medical supplies, including ventilators and respirators.
“We’ve acquired everything on the market there is to acquire,” Cuomo said. “We’ve had a full team purchasing from companies all across this globe, buying everything that can be purchased.”
Recently secured supplies will take care of the state’s immediate need, Cuomo said on Tuesday. But the burn rate is high and does not address the demand when the virus is expected to peak within two weeks.
Schenectady County on Wednesday also put out a call for personal protective equipment (PPEs).
The state saw its case total reach 30,811 by Wednesday afternoon, including 64 in Saratoga County, 55 in Schenectady County and 152 in Albany County, with 285 deaths reported statewide.
CCC expects a second shipment of between 3,000 and 4,500 masks to arrive from overseas next week, and a separate fundraising effort to purchase additional items has raised nearly $20,000 of its $60,000 goal.
The drive comes as China and the U.S. debate over who bears responsibility for the virus’ spread in America. The virus emerged from Wuhan in central China.
President Donald Trump and some Republican lawmakers are calling it the “Chinese Virus,” defending the description as a matter of fact.
But lawmakers like state Sen. John Liu, D-Queens, believe the language serves as tacit support for harassment and physical assaults against Asian-Americans.
“Long scapegoated and cast as ‘yellow peril,’ Asian-Americans are besieged on two fronts by the COVID-19 contagion, with outbreaks of ignorance and bigotry sometimes inflicting more harm than the virus itself,” said Liu in a released statement.
The Attorney General’s Office, which launched a hotline on Monday to report hate crimes and bias-based incidents, said the past several weeks have seen a rise in anti-Asian rhetoric through the use of the phrase.
At the same time, China is promoting an unfounded conspiracy theory that visiting U.S. military personnel brought the disease to Wuhan in October.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, has criticized what she calls China’s “unconscionable decision to orchestrate an elaborate coverup of the wide-ranging and deadly implications” of the virus.
And on Tuesday, she called for the U.S. to lead an international investigation into China’s handling of the pandemic and force the country to pay back all affected nations.
Stefanik hasn’t used the term “Chinese Virus” and “condemns any type of xenophobia or harassment of any community including the Asian-American community,” said a spokesperson.
“We stand with you as fellow Americans and must work to beat this disease,” Stefanik said through a spokesperson.
CCC is non-partisan and didn’t want to dive into the debate, but it acknowledges the rhetoric has “exacerbated” xenophobia and racism.
“We have seen videos showing Chinese-Americans subjected to outright violence without any slight provocation,” said CCC Chairwoman Lilly Miaw. “There are many more similar anecdotal stories.”
The Capital Region is home to at least 10,000 Chinese-Americans, all of whom are struggling like everyone else to combat the threat, said Miaw, citing closed businesses and frontline workers.
“We are all in this fight together,” Miaw said. “To win the ultimate war against COVID-19, Chinese-Americans are fighting side-by-side with the rest of the nation.”
Trump on Monday attempted to tamper down the rhetoric.
“It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!”
CCC said it didn’t have a problem with those two specific tweets. But the organization believes top-level officials need to be more cautious with their language.
“We just want people to be more compassionate,” Miaw said.
CCC is encouraging anyone who has experienced virus-related harassment or intimidation to file discrimination claims with the state Department of Labor and utilize the new hotline.
Members are also on-call to offer guidance, but advise people to first contact local law enforcement.
“We’re taking every measure we can think of to protect the community,” Zhang said.
Anyone experiencing hate crimes and bias incidences can report them by emailing the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau at [email protected], or calling 1-800-771-7755.
Clarification 12:58 p.m. March 26: This story has been updated to clarify remarks in the sixth-to-last paragraph.