A senior public health official in a St. Louis suburb spoke out after he was the target of racist abuse at a council meeting on the reintroduction of mask mandates to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“I have been to many council meetings where we have had tense conversations. It has never been poured into this anger, vitriol and outright abuse to the point where I feared for my own safety, ”Dr. Faisal Khan, St Louis County Acting Director of Public Health, told The Guardian.
“All we asked was that people wear a mask indoors while going about their activities, whether they wanted to gather a hundred people in a church or in a gathering space.”
St Louis County Executive Sam Page on Monday imposed an indoor mask mandate on the advice of Khan and other health experts as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations rose.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommendations, saying that people vaccinated against coronavirus should wear masks again in indoor public spaces in regions where the virus is on the rise.
However, the move in the St. Louis suburb sparked a quick backlash, with the county council voting 5-2 to overturn the mask’s mandate on Tuesday. in a video Widely distributed on social media, a crowd present at the council meeting can be seen cheering for the outcome. Page has insisted that the mask’s mandate is still in effect, despite the vote.
“When I entered the room, I saw that there were hundreds of people crowded together. Hardly anyone wore masks, ”Khan said. “Some people had children on their laps. So my first thought, as a medical epidemiologist, was, ‘OMG, this is a wide-spread event.’
Khan attended the meeting after being invited by a council member, Tim Fitch, who asked him to explain the science behind the need to wear masks indoors again.
While testifying, Khan said members of the crowd made fun of his accent. When he left, he said they hit him on the shoulder, then a crowd surrounded him and insulted him with a racial slur. He also noted that Fitch had used a xenophobic dog whistle when asking Khan about his credentials.
“Dr. Khan, we have certainly heard of your background before, but most of those present have not,” Fitch said during the meeting. “Can you tell us why your name is Dr. Khan? Are you a doctor in the United States? “
Khan wrote a now public letter to the council describing the racist abuse he received and explaining why he responded by raising his middle finger to the crowd.
“After being physically assaulted, called racial slurs and surrounded by an angry crowd, I expressed my disgust by using my middle finger at an individual who had physically threatened me and called racist slurs,” Khan wrote to the councilwoman who led the meeting.
“I am open and willing to inform the council about the public health issues related to Covid-19 and the other major challenges we face in public health in St Louis County. I simply ask that you take appropriate steps to investigate these matters, prevent similar events from happening in the future, and ensure that a safe and orderly environment is created for any future testimony that I or my staff are required to provide to the council. ‘
Khan told The Guardian that Fitch incited the crowd.
“The initial question was crafted and designed to paint me as an unskilled dark-haired doctor who was not from the United States. A political stunt, ”Khan said. “It got out of control very quickly.”
The Guardian contacted Fitch for comment. Fitch told the Post shipment newspaper, believed Khan wrote the letter because he knew he was in trouble for “pointing the middle finger.”
Page called the abuse targeting Khan “concerning” and said it was under investigation. “The behavior you have detailed is shameful and cannot be tolerated,” Page said in a statement.
In Missouri, only 41% of the population is fully vaccinated. As St Louis County leans toward the left politically, the state of Missouri votes for the Republican majority. Last week, White House Officials cited Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada and Missouri, mostly Republican states, as states with the highest number of new infections.
Khan expressed disappointment that the most important point about public safety seemed to have been lost.
“We really missed the opportunity to have a conversation, a discussion, an exchange of knowledge. It was a political theater, ”Khan said. “From a public health perspective, we don’t really care where people’s political affiliations are. The virus does not discriminate and neither do we ”.
Khan is not the only public health official who has suffered verbal abuse. In Pennsylvania, where 52.06% of the population is fully vaccinated, Parents and community members recently disagreed with the Bucks County school district decision not to require masks for students just prior to a school meeting. A doctor addressing the crowd was reportedly called a “murderer”.
In Shreveport, Louisiana, a doctor and public health official was recently cursed and yelled at at a city council meeting while debunking vaccine conspiracy theories.
Associated Press contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism