Rep. Paul Gosar's use of 'Wuhan Virus' spurs anger and debate

When announcing he will self-quarantine for 14 days, the Arizona Republican referred to the coronavirus as the "Wuhan Virus" — a phrase health officials say should not be used.
Representative Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, speaks during a 'Road To Victory' bus tour stop with Kelli Ward,
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., in 2018.Caitlin O'Hara / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Ben Kesslen

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., is coming under fire for calling the new coronavirus the "Wuhan Virus," a reference to the Chinese city where the outbreak started that some critics say is racist and evidence of anti-Asian bias.

Gosar made the reference Sunday in announcing that he would self-quarantine for 14 days after he came into "extended" contact with a person who since has been hospitalized for the coronavirus.

Gosar called the disease COVID-19 — its official name — in a statement, but on his personal Twitter account he called it the "Wuhan Virus" — a phrase health officials say should not be used.

Gosar defended himself on Twitter late Sunday, saying it is "just astoundingly ignorant to have all major media refer to it as #WuhanVirus for months but somehow, today, you've decided that's #racist."

"Ignore the snowflake Leftists who think everything is racist. It's a virus. It doesn't care about your race," he wrote.

But Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said in a tweet that Gosar's use of "Wuhan Virus" is "an example of the myopia that allowed it to spread," adding the virus is "not constrained by country or race."

Sleeping Giants, a liberal social media activist organization, responded to Gosar's tweet saying, "Hope you're okay, but perhaps while you're quarantined, you will realize how astoundingly xenophobic it is to call it the Wuhan Virus."

Many on social media, including NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue, took the criticism one step further, saying Gosar's reference was racist, as anti-Asian bias and xenophobia have been rising amid the outbreak.

Others, particularly figures in conservative media, defended Gosar, saying it is common to refer to diseases by the place where they originated, citing Lyme, Connecticut, as the namesake of Lyme disease, and the Zika virus, named after the Zika forest of Uganda.

When the coronavirus first appeared, some media outlets did refer to it as the "Wuhan virus" or the "Wuhan coronavirus." But in mid-February, the Asian American Journalists Association put out guidelines for reporting responsibly on the outbreak and cautioned against using "Wuhan virus." The AAJA cited 2015 guidelines from the World Health Organization discouraging the naming of illnesses after geographic locations to avoid stigmatizing those who live there.

More recently, WHO said specifically not to refer to the disease at the "Wuhan virus," adding that COVID-19 was deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatization.

"It's so painful to see the level of stigma we are observing," WHO's director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a video posted on social media. "Stigma, to be honest, is more dangerous than the virus itself, and let's really underline that. Stigma is the most dangerous enemy."