COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A lieutenant governor of Ohio pounded his heels on Wednesday in a tweet calling COVID-19 a “Wuhan virus,” even as lawyers warn that such rhetoric is the driving force behind the recent crackdown on Asians. In Georgia և in New York.
Republican Lieutenant Colonel Jon on Hust’s March 26 tweet was the second time in a week that Democrat Sen. Tina Maharat, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Ohio General Assembly, had heard of the official’s coronavirus, first appearing in Wuhan, China. “The Wuhan virus,” he said.
Maharat said Houst and others were following in the footsteps of former President Donald Trump, who variously referred to the virus as “kung flu” or “China virus.”
“When you say those things, for example, places of illness or ethnicity, it creates a racial profile, and then it turns into xenophobia,” Maharat said. “And when leaders with such power confidently repeat those terms, doubling it, it leads to more hate crimes.”
According to Houst in an interview with the Associated Press, he intends to criticize the Chinese government on Twitter.
“I was just pointing out that this is an international crisis, I think the Chinese government is responsible for it. I wanted an independent investigation,” he said. “So I was not trying to achieve anything that the political left or the political right could have other than tweeting about the problem.”
The claim that COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan laboratory has been scrutinized over the past year by health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading US infectious disease specialist.
The lawsuit was later dropped when the World Health Organization (WHO) polled a report by the AP saying it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had accidentally left a Chinese laboratory and had probably spread from animals to humans.
For almost a week, Houstt defended a tweet related to an article in which Robert Redford, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said without testifying that he believed the virus originated in Wuhan’s lab.
“So, in the end, it turns out that this is Wuhan’s virus?” Husted tweeted from his personal account on Friday.
Some respondents supported Husted to take over China. More were the critical responses from Twitter users, who said that such rhetoric incites hatred, violence against Asians, and residents of the Pacific Islands.
Stop AAPI Hate released a report last month showing that it had received more than 3,800 reports of episodes in the United States ranging from avoiding verbal harassment to violence on February 28 this year. Many of the confrontations were related to misconceptions about the virus.
The gunman entered Atlanta on March 16, killing eight people, including six Asian women, although police have not yet identified the shooting as a hate crime. The shooting was still fresh when a man was caught on video in New York City on Monday as he kicked an Asian American woman in the face while police said he was shouting anti-Asian rhetoric.
Gov. Mike Devine on Monday defended his lieutenant, saying “there is no prejudice there at all.”
“We love the people, but we can still be critical of the Chinese government without prejudice,” he told reporters.
Two days before Houston tweeted, Ohio Republican Sen. Terry John Onson mentioned the “Wuhan virus” on the floor of the House.
“We called it the Wuhan virus because that’s where it came from,” said John Onson. “We have always called viruses where they came from, but now we do not do it even because of all this political correctness.”
In the last century, international health professionals have deliberately avoided the names of diseases from the names of the city or region of origin due to possible stigma. In 2015, the World Health Organization published guidelines promoting the use of geographical locations, animals, or groups of people in disease names.
But Hust definitely stayed in his AP interview.
“There were a lot of people on Twitter that I would call a culture of repeal who immediately assumed there was a racial element in the tweet,” said Houstett, “which did not exist.”
Farnush Amiri is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national non-profit program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover hidden issues.