Trump’s Dangerous Coronavirus Name Game is Part of a Long, Crazy History

For the second day in a row, President Trump opened a press conference today devoted to an outbreak that has now killed more than 200 Americans without saying the word “coronavirus.” Instead, he substituted his chosen name: “The Chinese Virus.”

Other Republicans are also racing to rebrand the virus that causes COVID-19. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has called it “Chinese Coronavirus,” while Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar is trying to make “Wuhan Virus” a thing. One White House official even allegedly referred to the global pandemic as “Kung-Flu.”

The World Health Organization intentionally avoids this, and advises against any possible nickname for a disease that calls up people, places, groups, or even professions, because those names can create a stigma. Even the Trump-appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, told the House in a hearing that using location-specific labels for the virus is “absolutely wrong and inappropriate.”

There is a long, inglorious history of naming diseases after disdained groups. In 1495, Russians called a syphilis outbreak the Polish Disease, the Polish called it the German Disease, and the French and Italians named it after each other. The 1918 flu pandemic that infected over a quarter of the world’s population is still referred to as “The Spanish Flu,” even though there is no consensus on where that outbreak originated. Spain just happened to have the most reliable reporting at the time, as other countries censored their press to boost morale during World War I. Because Spain reported the first illness-related death, it got stuck with the name.

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Meet Trump’s CDC Director Who Has a History of Controversial Health Decisions

You might have seen him lurking behind Vice President press while he’s delivering an update on the administration’s efforts to contain the coronavirus. Or looking on as President Trump touts his own medical know-how during what’s meant to be an update on the administration’s efforts to contain the coronavirus.

He’s Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while Trump’s approach to the epidemic to date seems to involve minimizing the issue, Redfield oversees the federal agency tasked with actually responding to it. So who is he?

Redfield is no stranger to epidemics, seeing as he’s a virologist. When he was announced as the CDC director in 2018, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar cited his pioneering contributions to advancing our understanding of HIV/AIDS.

But some of those contributions have been controversial.

As the U.S. Army’s chief AIDS researcher in the 1980s, Redfield supported mandatory HIV screening for the military, which kept recruits from serving if they tested positive, and led to several active duty troops being segregated — a practice Redfield defended at the time as necessary to control the AIDS epidemic.

In 1992, the Defense Department investigated Redfield after he was accused of overselling the effects of an experimental HIV vaccine he oversaw. Though no evidence of misconduct was found, the vaccine ended up failing.

That same investigation criticized Redford for having an inappropriately close relationship with a non-profit founded by evangelical Christians, which worked to contain the HIV/AIDS outbreak by advocating for abstinence before marriage, rather than passing out condoms — a view he says he’s since changed.

When it comes to the U.S. response to the coronavirus, the CDC is playing catch up. And Redfield is one of the key people who’s going to be answering for it. The agency shipped its first test kits to state labs in February, a month after the world learned of the outbreak in China. But some of those kits were flawed, thanks to a contaminated reagent, leaving labs with inconclusive results.

As of March 9, the CDC and state health labs had conducted more than 8-and-a-half thousand tests, resulting in 423 confirmed cases. Compare that to the UK, which has a similar number of confirmed cases — 319 — but has managed to test nearly 25,000 people.

Those numbers are already out of date, but whatever they are by the time you read this, it’s likely that Trump will be seeking to downplay them.

That shouldn’t matter to the director of the CDC, whose first concern should be the health of Americans, not the health of his boss’s ego. So it’s not exactly inspiring when, on Trump’s visit to the CDC, Redfield said the most important thing he wanted to say … was a thank you to Trump, for visiting the CDC.

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CDC offers glimpse into new virus response center

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered a glimpse Thursday into its Emergency Operations Center in Atlanta, where employees are tasked with responding to the new virus at the center of a global outbreak. (Feb. 13)

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Houston airport to start coronavirus screenings

Houston Bush Intercontinental is one of 15 airports nationwide at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plan to expand screenings for the coronavirus. (Jan. 28)

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CDC: New virus’s risk for U.S. public remains low

A Chicago woman has become the second U.S. patient diagnosed with the dangerous new virus from China, health officials announced Friday. And The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the risk to the U.S. public remains low. (Jan. 24)

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CDC: Vaccine, safe and effective to halt measles

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that there have been more cases of measles reported this year than in the past 25 years. (April 29)

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CDC says mystery illness cases higher this year

(10 Dec 2018) Health officials are reporting the most cases ever of a mysterious paralyzing illness in children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reported 158 confirmed cases so far this year. That’s more than the 149 reported in a similar wave of illnesses in 2016. (Dec. 10)

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Police: Missing CDC Employee Drowned

Authorities say an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whose body was found in an Atlanta river drowned and that there were no signs of foul play. (April 5)

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ER Opioid Overdose Visits Up 30 Percent

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new numbers on the opioid crisis Tuesday, saying the number of overdose visits to hospital emergency rooms soared last year, the latest evidence the nation’s drug crisis is getting worse. (Mar. 6)

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Worsening Flu Season Has Many Afraid, Grieving

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 1 in 13 doctor visits last week were for symptoms of the flu. That’s as high as it got during the swine flu pandemic in 2009. The CDC put out the latest numbers Friday. (Feb. 9)

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CDC: Flu Season Now As Bad As 2009’s Swine Flu

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the flu has further tightened its grip on the U.S. and warns the season is now as bad as the swine flu epidemic nine years ago. (Feb. 9)

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CDC: Flu Season Far From Over

Health officials say flu season continues to get worse, and there are weeks of suffering ahead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday reported 42 states had heavy flu-related patient traffic last week, up from 39 the week before. (Feb. 2)

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Flu Hits Americans in 46 States

Flu cases have spread to 46 states with a sharp increase during the last week of December, according to the most recent statistics available from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Jan. 9)

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