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GOP senator: Hispanics show 'less consistent adherence' to social distancing, mask-wearing

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? On The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections Bipartisan infrastructure group grows to 21 senators MORE (R-N.C.) on Tuesday in a telephone town hall with constituents said he was concerned that Hispanics make up a high percentage of COVID-19 cases in his state, and then attributed this to Hispanics not wearing masks and not socially distancing as much as the rest of the population. 

"Just wear the mask out of respect. 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 positive cases," said Tillis, according to a recording of the town hall.

"And we do have some concerns that in the Hispanic population we've seen less consistent adherence to social distancing and wearing a mask," added Tillis, who faces a competitive reelection race this fall that will help determine the next Senate majority.

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Tillis offered the remarks as part of a longer answer to a question about how to deal with people who don't wear masks and whether there was a role for the police. The question did not mention Hispanics. 

Asked about the comments on Hispanics, masks and social distancing, Tillis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said Tillis thinks North Carolinians of all backgrounds should be wearing masks. 

"The community faces significant challenges, including multi generational households that make it tougher to social distance, and the increased exposure risk for essential workers on the front lines who are keeping our economy running. The government at all levels should assist the community in the fight to beat the virus and promote ways to keep residents safe and healthy, which is Senator Tillis's priority," said Romeo.

"Senator Tillis has also been clear that not enough North Carolinians of all backgrounds have been wearing masks and has consistently advocated that all his constituents do so," he added.

He also pointed to remarks in late June from North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen and Duke University Professor Viviana S. Martinez-Bianchi that underscored the risk of COVID-19 to Hispanics.

Tillis has been a vocal proponent of mask-wearing, even as the use of masks to prevent coronavirus transmission has become politicized. 

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Nationwide, Hispanics have been disproportionately affected by the virus, in large part because Hispanics are more likely to work in industries such as construction, health care and food supply, a point noted by Martinez-Bianchi in June.

But Hispanics, Blacks and Asian Americans have collectively been more likely than whites to wear masks and consider it important that members of their communities wear masks, according to research by the Pew Research Center.

In a June survey, Pew found that 89 percent of Asian Americans reported wearing a mask in stores some of the time, as did 87 percent of Hispanics, 86 percent of Black respondents, and 78 percent of whites.

A separate Pew survey later in June showed 63 percent of Hispanics think people should wear masks whenever in public or near others, compared to 61 percent of Black respondents and 41 percent of white respondents.

That's despite the fact that Black, Asian and Hispanic respondents were more likely than white respondents to say they were wary of wearing masks for fear of seeming suspicious to others.

Tillis is trailing Democrat Cal Cunningham in his race for reelection this November by an average of 4.2 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls.