The novel coronavirus outbreak has now reached 164 countries, with an estimated 200,000 people infected and already 8,000 deaths globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., there are now cases in all 50 states, and in an agreement with Canada the northern border—the longest land border in the world—will be closed to all nonessential traffic.
The Trump administration appears to also be very invested in branding the outbreak. The World Health Organization issued guidelines in 2015 explicitly calling for public officials not to name diseases and outbreaks after people or places because it invites stigma and violence. Donald Trump himself has repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as "the China virus" while other conservatives like Arizona congressman Paul Gosar insist on calling it "Wuhan virus," after the area of China where the outbreak started. Some officials are apparently even more flip: On Tuesday, CBS reporter Weijia Jiang tweeted, "This morning a White House official referred to #Coronavirus as the 'Kung-Flu' to my face. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back."
On Thursday morning, at a press briefing, Yamiche Alcindor of PBS asked White House adviser Kellyanne Conway if calling the pandemic "kung flu" was wrong, Conway replied, "I'm not dealing in hypotheticals here, of course it's wrong, but you can't just make an accusation and not tell us who it is." She then addressed Jiang and demand she name the official, saying "Weija, who was it? Tell us, I think we ought to know?"
"You understand how these conversations go," Jiang replied. Presumably, Conway knows that if Jiang named the the official she was talking to, it would likely cost her access to White House sources in the future. But Conway often tries to derail reporters when they're asking her about potentially embarrassing topics, like demanding a journalist tell her their ethnicity when she was asked about Trump telling congresswomen to "go back to their country."
"I don't know how these conversations go," Conway replied, "and that's highly offensive so you should tell us who it is, I'd like to know who it is. I'm not going to engage in hypotheticals, I'm married to an Asian." Conway was referring to her husband and frequent Trump critic George Conway, whose mother is from the Philippines. She then added, "My kids are partly — I'm married to an Asian-American, my kids are 25 percent Filipino."
At a separate press briefing, Alcindor asked Trump directly the term and his own insistence in referring to the coronavirus as "Chinese." Alcindor asked, "Do you think that puts Asian Americans at risk?"
"No no no no," Trump said. "I think they probably would agree with it 100 percent."
Late Wednesday, Texas senator John Cornyn upped the rhetoric, telling reporters, "China is to blame because the culture where people eat bats & snakes & dogs & things like that, these viruses are transmitted from the animal to the people and that's why China has been the source of a lot of these viruses like SARS, like MERS, the swine flu."
Cornyn got two of the three diseases he listed wrong. The 2009 outbreak of swine flu, otherwise known as H1N1 influenza, began in North America. Saudi Arabia was the point of origin for MERS, which stands for "Middle East respiratory syndrome." On a completely different note, rattlesnake meat appears on menus in restaurants throughout Texas.
Adam Serwer, a writer for The Atlantic, summed up what he calls the "Trumpist" attitude to racism succinctly on Tuesday, tweeting, "They do racist shit like this not just because they’re racist, but to draw accusations of racism from the left, which outrage and motivate the base no matter how meritorious." He elaborated later, saying, "They’re far more concerned about riling up the base by drawing accusations of racism than they are dealing with the pandemic. It’s absolutely urgent to them that they be able to get into this argument to distract from Trump’s incompetence."
Meanwhile, reports are appearing in the media of anti-Asian incidents, some of which are connected to the outbreak. A Singaporean student in London was assaulted by a man who reportedly said, "I don’t want your coronavirus in my country." Another man was accosted on public transit in New York and sprayed with Febreze. In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Jiayang Fan, a staff writer at The New Yorker, recounted a strange man yelling "fucking Chinese" and "I'm talking to you, Chinese bitch" at her on the street in New York.
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Originally Appeared on GQ