The chief of the D.C. Department of Health said Wednesday that ignorance about the Ebola outbreak is causing people to stigmatize the city’s African population.
Joxel Garcia said members of the public have posed odd questions and expressed outsized fears about transmission, especially to cab drivers.
“When they read the name, they come out of the taxi,” he said.
Even a member of the media asked him why people from Ethiopia and Eritrea — two large immigrant groups in the nation’s capital — were not being screened for the virus upon arriving in the United States.
Neither country is located near the Ebola outbreak that has devastated West Africa, particularly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The director said he has Ethiopian and Eritrean friends, and people who used to shake their hands no longer do.
“We have one of the most dynamic African communities in the nation,” he said, underscoring the problem.
In another instance, a man asked Dr. Garcia what to do about two Africans on his swim team. In light of Ebola, his wife would not let him into the bedroom until he quit the swim team, or until the two team members quit. Neither member was from the region affected by Ebola.
In yet another instance, a patient asked not to see a doctor after learning she was from Africa.
Dr. Garcia delivered the remarks at a summit hosted by the Universal Peace Federation, a non-government organization that says it promotes peace through “universal spiritual and moral values.” The foundation was founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who also founded The Washington Times. The event was held at the Northeast Washington headquarters of The Times.
Dr. Garcia said more than 40 people are checking in twice a day with his department because they are on a 21-day monitoring list after traveling in West Africa. That number will likely triple during the holiday season, he said.
Americans also should be careful about how they couch the situation abroad, he told audience members.
The virus has cropped up in various quarters of West Africa, and those countries are diverse.
“When we had the case in New York, we didn’t say the eastern seaboard was infected,” he said.