WASHINGTON — Leaders of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressional Native American Caucus, and Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) on March 10 called on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to apologize for calling the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) the “Chinese coronavirus,” or the “Wuhan virus,” and are urging all members of Congress to avoid stoking xenophobia that puts people at risk.
Last month, members of CAPAC sent a letter to every member of Congress urging them to not stoke xenophobia or spread misinformation, citing the rise in racial prejudice and violent attacks against Asian Americans in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak.
That same week, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar testified in the House Ways and Means Committee and committed to Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of CAPAC, to no longer reference a specific location or country when referring to COVID-19, acknowledging that it puts people at risk of being discriminated against because of ethnicity.
Also that week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mitch Wolfe said that “stigma is the enemy of public health.”
And on March 10, CDC Director Robert Redfield reaffirmed that it is inappropriate and wrong to refer to COVID-19 as “Chinese coronavirus.” The CDC’s website also cautions against the negative impacts to public health of stigma and xenophobia.
The members issued the following statements:
“Calling the 2019 novel coronavirus the ‘Chinese’ or ‘Wuhan’ coronavirus is as descriptive as calling it the ‘CPAC coronavirus’ – that is to say not descriptive at all. Worse, it’s harmful,” said Chu. “The coronavirus has spread to over 100 countries, including the United States, and, as HHS Secretary Alex Azar testified to me, has nothing to do with ethnicity.
“Insisting on identifying the virus by region, as Leader McCarthy and Rep. Gosar have done, only creates fear and hostility. We know that this xenophobia puts people at risk. Already, we are seeing Asian American children beaten in school, families prejudiced against, and small businesses forced to close.
“The Trump Administration’s top health officials have made it clear that Leader McCarthy’s words are dangerous, so my question to him is ‘Why would you reject the Trump Administration’s guidance?’ Leader McCarthy and Rep. Gosar should immediately apologize for using a public health crisis to push a nativist and xenophobic agenda that puts Americans’ lives in danger. I urge them to listen to the advice of actual experts and only refer to COVID-19 by its official names.”
“Right now, the most important thing is keeping everyone healthy, safe, and well-informed about how to protect themselves and their families,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chair of the CHC. “The Trump Administration and congressional Republicans must stop using a public health crisis to spread misinformation and xenophobia.
“I condemn Congressman Kevin McCarthy for referring to COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese coronavirus’ in the strongest terms and reject his racist rhetoric. No one should give credence to this false narrative about Asian Americans or allow this crisis to divide our communities.”
“In the midst of a national emergency in which people have died and are ill as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, we must be extremely careful of our words, because words can have undesired consequences,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), chair of the CBC. “There have been examples of attacks on individuals and harm to Asian-owned and operated business. This is a time when we all need to come together as a nation.”
“The American people deserve leaders who bring calm and confidence during a time when public health is a major concern,” said Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), co-chair of the Native American Caucus. “The Republican leader’s language perpetuates racism when instead we should be encouraging everyone to wash their hands and be vigilant when they don’t feel well.
“Mr. McCarthy should apologize to the entire Asian American community for pushing this racist narrative and change his tune.”
“We are appalled by the xenophobic tweets on the novel coronavirus from Kevin McCarthy and Paul Gosar,” said CPC Co-chairs Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). “At this critical moment and with countless lives at risk, elected officials have a responsibility to build trust and counter misinformation.
“Referring to COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese’ or ‘Wuhan’ coronavirus serves no purpose other than to vilify innocent populations – Reps. McCarthy and Gosar should apologize for this vile and harmful language.”