After weeks of denying the threat of COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus, the scale and spread of the pandemic has made it impossible for President Donald Trump to continue denying the problem as a political “hoax” perpetrated by his political opponents to bring him down in November.

What the president has not abandoned is his penchant for injecting racism into every possible issue, including apparently, into the pandemic that is now affecting most of the world. Instead of denying a problem exists, Trump has now shifted to calling COVID “the Chinese virus.”

Trump has defended his use of the term “Chinese virus” by comparing it to pandemics with “place names,” like the “Spanish flu.” Putting aside that the “Spanish flu” originated in the United States, the larger problems is that by employing such language, Trump and his nativist advisers are exploiting a health crisis for xenophobic ends.

Leaders of National Nurses United are calling on President Trump and other Republican officials to stop using racist and xenophobic language targeting China and Chinese people for the global novel coronavirus pandemic.

“It is alarming to hear our highest public officials calling this dangerous pandemic a ‘Chinese’ virus which is not only terribly misleading, it encourages acts of bigotry and threats of violence against people of Chinese descent as well as other Asian people,” says NNU executive director Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director.

Social media has been swamped with reports from people of Asian descent who have been taunted with racist abuse, and physical threats.

“As nurses, we know that kindness and humanitarian compassion are at the core of healing, they are also at the heart of public health and safety,” says NNU President Zenei Cortez, RN. “Blaming any one nationality or ethnicity only tears people apart and puts people in danger. We must stand together as one people, and understand that bullying, and threats will only make this severe national crisis worse,” adds NNU President Jean Ross, RN.

The HIV/AIDS crisis beginning in the 1980s was much the same story, as fears about the “African disease” served to discriminate against black migrants and refugees for decades. And more recently, fears of Central American migrants spreading disease have helped to justify the government’s draconian and inhumane policies toward them, including family separation, indefinite detention in concentration camp-like conditions, and the “Remain in Mexico” rule.

In recent days, President Trump has stepped up use of the label “Chinese virus.” Another unnamed White House official used an additional derogatory language referring to the virus as “Kung Flu.” Other Republican officials have engaged in similar or “even more appalling language and stereotyping,” noted Castillo. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), for example, claimed that “China is to blame because the culture where people eat bats & snakes & dogs & things like that.”

The public health implications of COVID-19 are now becoming clear. But there are also social and political implications that we should be vigilant about. It is no coincidence that as Trump insists on calling this pandemic the “Chinese virus,” immigration raids have also been ramped up in some American cities. History shows us that during times of crisis, people seek scapegoats and governments exploit the population’s fears and anxieties for nefarious ends.

Castillo noted a number of highly developed Asian nations—including China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore have demonstrated a much more rapid and effective response to containing the spread of the virus and providing treatment for those infected, than the U.S. and many European countries. Many of their health care systems were set up to rapidly expand testing, social distancing and isolation measures, and treatment, and had more capacity to care for those harmed.

The acceleration of the climate crisis is encouraging an increase in the spread of a number of endemics, especially vector-borne viruses spreading from tropical settings to other regions as a result of global warming.

“As a global community we should be promoting international cooperation and sharing resources for testing, medical treatment, and the critical search for an effective vaccine. That, not blame, is how to end this crisis,” Castillo said.

The Milwaukee Independent began reporting on what was then referred to as the mysterious “Wuhan Virus” in January 2020. Other local media did not picked-up on the story until many weeks later. Our early features focused on the economic impact, social issues, and health concerns long before other Milwaukee news organizations even mentioned the coronavirus. Over the following year, we have published hundreds of articles about the pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Milwaukee residents. This extensive body of work can be found on our COVID-19 Special Report page, a chronological index of links by month. Our editorial voice remains dedicated to informing the public about this health crisis for as long as it persists.
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