Fact check: Claims on Biden banning use of ‘Wuhan virus’ to describe COVID-19 missing context
The claim: A Biden executive order prohibits federal use of “Wuhan virus” to describe COVID-19
Facebook posts claiming one of President Joe Biden’s first executive orders prohibits the use of “Wuhan virus” to describe the coronavirus have resurfaced across social media as the president approached his 100th day in office.
“Biden signs executive order banning federal use of the words ‘Wuhan virus’ to describe the Corona Virus,” says the caption of one image shared April 21.
Within a week, the image shared by Freedom Fights, a Facebook page associated with conservative organization Turning Point USA, had received almost 600 comments and 1,100 reactions.
The social media post refers to an executive order on racial equality Biden signed on January 26, which called on federal agencies to ensure official actions and statements don’t contribute to racist and xenophobic attacks happening against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment.
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While some argue the order banned all unofficial terms for the coronavirus, such as “Wuhan virus” or “China virus,” a closer look shows it doesn’t mention or ban the use of those specifically.
Order doesn’t mention “Wuhan virus” or “China virus”
The order is aimed at federal agencies, not the general public. Specifically, it seeks to ensure their actions and the language used in official documents and statements doesn’t contribute to racism.
“Executive departments and agencies shall take all appropriate steps to ensure that official actions, documents, and statements, including those that pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic, do not exhibit or contribute to racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” the order reads.
Without specifically mentioning former President Donald Trump’s regular use of “the China virus” to describe COVID-19, the order says the federal government has contributed to “xenophobic sentiments” in the country.
In the order, Biden said referencing the COVID-19 pandemic by the location where it originated “perpetuated stigma” and contributed to bullying, harassment and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
During his remarks at the signing, Biden said: “Today, I’m directing federal agencies to combat resurgence of xenophobia, particularly against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, that we’ve seen skyrocket during this pandemic.”
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The order also calls on Health Secretary Xavier Becerra to issue guidance on the best practices to advance the government’s COVID-19 response while creating cultural sensitivity towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Attacks on Asian Americans increased during the pandemic
Asian Americans across the country have experienced an increase in hate crimes and harassment tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 81% of Asian adults reported violence against them increased, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.
A combined 32% of Asian adults said these attacks were motivated by Trump’s rhetoric about China as the source of the pandemic and his comments about the “Chinese flu,” and Americans blaming Asian people for bringing the pandemic to the United States.
When asked why he used terms such as “Chinese virus” at the beginning of the pandemic, Trump said: “Because it comes from China. It’s not racist at all, not at all. It comes from China, that’s why. I want to be accurate.”
And during the final presidential debate before the 2020 election, Trump blamed China for letting the coronavirus spread. He said: “It’s not my fault that it came here. It’s China’s fault… They kept it from going into the rest of China, for the most part, but they didn’t keep it from coming out to the world, including Europe and ourselves.”
It’s difficult to determine an exact number of the attacks on Asian Americans since the pandemic, as no organization keeps track of all attacks long-term. But the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate said it received almost 4,000 reports of discriminatory incidents between March 2020 — when it started tracking — and February 2021.
“The number of hate incidents reported to our center represent only a fraction of the number of hate incidents that actually occur, but it does show how vulnerable Asian Americans are to discrimination, and the types of discrimination they face,” Stop AAPI Hate’s national report says.
The report said most of the incidents are verbal harassment, accounting for 68% of all attacks, and the purposeful avoidance of Asian Americans, which accounts for 21%. Other common incidents include physical assault (11%), civil rights violations like refusal of service or workplace discrimination (8%) and online harassment (7%).
On April 22, the Senate passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which would expedite the Justice Department’s review of hate crimes and designate an official to oversee the efforts.
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In his speech to Congress April 28, Biden thanked the Senate for passing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act “to protect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from the vicious hate crimes we’ve seen this past year – and for too long.”
Our rating: Missing context
We rate the claims that Biden’s executive order prohibits the use of “Wuhan virus” MISSING CONTEXT, because without additional information it could be misleading. The order directs federal agencies to ensure their official actions and materials don’t contribute to racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. It doesn’t explicitly ban the use of “Wuhan virus,” but it does disapprove of similar terms that could contribute to discriminatory attacks.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, January 21, ‘This is a wartime undertaking’: Biden signs 10 orders aimed at COVID-19 on first full day in White House
- The White House, January 26, Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States
- The White House, January 26, Remarks by President Biden at Signing of an Executive Order on Racial Equity
- Biden-Harris Campaign, accessed April 28, Highlights from Joe Biden’s agenda for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community
- USA TODAY, February 27, Hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise. Here’s what activists, lawmakers and police are doing to stop the violence
- Pew Research Center, April 21, One-third of Asian Americans fear threats, physical attacks and most say violence against them is rising
- Stop AAPI Hate, March 16, 2020-2021 National Report
- FBI, Uniform Crime Reporting, 2019 Hate Crime Statistics by Bias Motivation
- C-SPAN, March 18, 2020, tweet
- USA TODAY, October 23, 2020, Debate transcript: Trump, Biden final presidential debate moderated by Kristen Welker
- USA TODAY, March 19, Hard workers, dedicated mothers, striving immigrants: These are the 8 people killed in the Atlanta area spa shootings
- USA TODAY, March 17, Georgia spa shootings: Suspect officially charged after 8 people killed at 3 businesses; most victims were Asian
- USA TODAY, April 22, COVID-19 hate crimes bill to fight Asian American discrimination passes Senate
- USA TODAY, April 28, Read the full transcript from President joe Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress
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