Advocates warned against attaching location to coronavirus, but Trump still does

Advocates warned against attaching location to coronavirus, but Trump still does
Advocates warned against attaching location to coronavirus, but Trump still does  

WASHINGTON - After lawmakers, community advocates and health experts advised against attaching a location to the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump has continued to refer to it as "Chinese virus," causing many to double down on their calls to avoid prejudice.

He used the phrase again in several tweets Wednesday morning. In one post addressing Americans laid off because of the virus' economic impact, he wrote, "The onslaught of the Chinese Virus is not your fault!"

Asked about his continued use of the phrase during a coronavirus task force briefing on Tuesday, Trump said China had been sowing misinformation about the virus' origins, and "rather than having an argument, I said I have to call it where it came from; it did come from China."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the term "Wuhan virus" five times in the span of a 16-minute news conference Tuesday too, as he spoke with reporters about the State Department's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Wuhan, China, has been one of the cities hardest hit by the coronavirus.

Whether the virus originated in China is not in serious dispute, despite some attempts by Chinese officials to sow misinformation about the virus' origins. A USA TODAY fact check found claims the virus originated elsewhere "false."

Experts, lawmakers, and Asian American advocates, however, have advised against referring to the virus with a location-specific name to avoid "xenophobia" against people of Asian descent.

Democratic leaders of color slammed Trump's use of "Chinese virus" in a statement released Tuesday, imploring leaders to "stick to expert guidance and not spread xenophobia"

"By telling people who to blame, they are telling people who to fear and who to hate. Unfortunately, we have already seen how this bigotry has impacted Asian Americans across the country who are facing increased prejudice and violence," said Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Rep. Judy Chu, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Rep. Joaquin Castro, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Karen Bass, and Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Deb Haaland.

The World Health Organization issued guidance in 2015 calling on media outlets, scientists and national authorities to avoid naming infectious diseases for locations to avoid stigmatizing groups of people.

"This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected." Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director general for health security, said at the time, citing how "certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities" or have other serious consequences.

The guidance cited disease names like the Spanish Flu and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome as ones to be avoided.

Asian American lawmakers raised the alarm about xenophobia and the virus in late February. Speaking outside the U.S. Capitol at a press conference, Asian American lawmakers called on their colleagues and the American public not to spread "xenophobia" or "rumors" in their response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Fact check: Coronavirus originated in China, not elsewhere, researchers and studies say

More: Democratic lawmakers call on Republicans to apologize for 'bigoted' coronavirus language

Chu, D-Calif., slammed "fake news meant to create fear" and "rumors directed at Chinese Americans" stemming from misinformation about the outbreak.

Chu showed reporters a falsified flyer that had circulated in her district with the logos of the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health that instructed residents to boycott certain Asian-owned businesses

According to Chu, business was down 50% in restaurants in her majority-Asian district in the San Gabriel Valley outside Los Angeles.

The lawmakers, health experts, and community advocates assembled for the press conference emphasized that the virus, which has been named COVID-19, was spread by exposure to infected individuals, not ethnicity.

Mitch Wolfe, chief medical officer at the CDC, told reporters, "stigma is the enemy of public health."

"Ethnicity is not a risk factor," Wolfe added.

More: Coronavirus, explained: Everything to know about COVID-19, the deadly virus alarming the world

More: 'We do a lot of crying': American couple in quarantine for coronavirus separated in Japan, US

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., whose Queens, New York, district is 40% Asian American, said, "there have been restaurants that have already been shut down because of poor business."

Rita Pin Ahrens, the executive director of Asian American advocacy group OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, which has local chapters all over the country, said "rampant misinformation" has emerged since the outbreak began.

"Across the country, our chapters are reporting diminished patronage to Asian American-owned businesses, from restaurants to grocery stores, to nail salons and to other places and forcing owners into financial crisis and sending workers home," she said.

According to Pin Ahrens, business at Jusgo Grocery, an Asian grocery store in Houston, was down 80%, and down 50 to 75% at restaurants in the area.

More: US workers didn't have proper gear to work with coronavirus evacuees, HHS whistleblower claims

More: Mike Pence's crisis manager skills put to the test in new role leading coronavirus response

In response to a "surge of discriminatory rhetoric and violent attacks against Asian Americans," the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus also circulated a letter in late February to colleagues in Congress calling on them to "share only confirmed and verifiable information" and "dispel misinformation" about the virus outbreak.

The letter referenced comments by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who had suggested in a Fox News interview the virus had originated in a Chinese lab, a claim Rep. Chu told reporters on Feb. 28 "reinforces a narrative that China is an enemy, which puts Chinese Americans particularly at risk."

A USA TODAY fact check found "no evidence exists" to support such a claim about the origin of the virus.

"The best way to stop the spread of coronavirus is to wash your hands, not perpetuate racist stereotypes," the lawmakers concluded in their letter.

Contributing: Deidre Shesgreen

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: advocates warn not to use location, Trump still does


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