Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the CDC’s budget on Tuesday. Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP

By  Colby Itkowitz 

 The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that attaching Chinese to a description of the coronavirus was wrong after both President Trump and the top House Republican were accused of racism for labeling it.

“It’s absolutely wrong and inappropriate to call this the Chinese coronavirus, I assume you would agree with that,” Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) said to CDC chief Robert Redfield, who testified in the House on Tuesday morning.

Redfield said “yes,” noting the virus is also widespread in South Korea, Iran and Italy.

Some Republicans, including members of Congress, administration officials and Trump himself, have taken to labeling the coronavirus by the country or ethnicity where it was first detected. Democrats have called them out for race-baiting and xenophobia.

Trump on Tuesday shared a tweet advocating for his U.S.-Mexico border wall as a way to protect America against the “China Virus.” Adding his own commentary, Trump wrote, “Going up fast. We need the Wall more than ever!”

That prompted Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to slam the president’s comments as racist. “A wall won’t stop a virus. Racism won’t stop a virus. Do your job,” the former vice president tweeted.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) referred to the coronavirus on Twitter as the “Chinese coronavirus.”

Several Democrats condemned McCarthy for what they described as a racist tweet.

“Will stop spread of the coronavirus: washing your hands/staying home if you’re sick,” Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) wrote. “Won’t stop the spread of coronavirus: racism/xenophobia.”

“Delete this tweet, @GOPLeader,” Porter added.

McCarthy’s office responded to a request for comment with a link to a January Washington Post story that used “Chinese coronavirus” in the headline, but not in the body of the story. As it spread to other countries, public health experts have warned against labeling it as one ethnicity.

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave it the nickname “Wuhan virus,” after the Chinese city where the virus took hold. The Chinese government called such phraseology “highly irresponsible.”

Then on Sunday night, Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), one of several Republican congressional members to self-quarantine after coming into contact with an attendee of a conservative conference who tested positive for the coronavirus, also called it the “Wuhan Virus” on social media.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) responded: “The virus is not constrained by country or race. Be just as stupid to call it the Milan Virus.”

Is it racist to call coronavirus the ‘Wuhan Virus’? GOP congressman’s self-quarantine tweet sparks a debate.

But rather than deter, it seems to have emboldened some Republicans to attach ethnicity to the virus. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), for one, sent a news release Sunday that he was requesting information about “Chinese Coronavirus Deaths in Florida.”

And it has escalated in the past 24 hours with the leader of the House GOP and Trump using or endorsing similar language.

In tweeting a link to the government’s coronavirus website Monday night, McCarthy wrote: “Everything you need to know about the Chinese coronavirus can be found on one, regularly-updated website.”

Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani followed his boss’s lead and called it the “China Virus” in a tweet comparing the 27 deaths from the coronavirus with the hundreds of thousands who have died of cancer or heart disease. He later revised the tweet to call it coronavirus.

The uptick in referring to the virus by the country or people it first infected comes after the World Health Organization last week urged people not to call it a “Wuhan virus,” “Chinese virus” or “Asian virus.”

“The official name for the disease was deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatization,” the organization advised on March 2 by calling it covid-19.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) sent a letter to all of her congressional colleagues on Feb. 26 urging them to stop using terminology that stokes fear and prejudice against Asian Americans.

“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen a surge of discriminatory rhetoric and violent attacks against Asian Americans across the country,” Chu wrote in a letter signed by members of the Asian Pacific American Caucus. “Even just looking Asian has been enough to incite attackers to hurl insults and accuse individuals of being disease carriers.”

The next day, during a hearing on the Department of Health and Human Services budget, Chu got Secretary Alex Azar to commit to stop referring to it as the “China coronavirus.”

“You’re absolutely right. We must ensure nobody is discriminated against based on ethnicity,” Azar said at the Feb. 27 hearing. “Ethnicity is not what causes the novel coronavirus.”