COLUMBUS, Ohio — The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted on Thursday continued to insist that in calling it the “Wuhan virus,” he was only raising questions about the Chinese government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic — not blaming the disease on Asians.
At the same time Husted, a Trump supporter, wouldn’t address the former president’s handling of the pandemic in the United States — the country with the most deaths from the disease.
Amid a wave of anti-Asian violence, Husted came under fire for his tweet last week of an article about baseless claims by Robert Redfield, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Redfield said it was his “opinion” that the coronavirus escaped a lab in Wuhan, China. The same article said that the World Health Organization called the claim “extremely unlikely.”
“So it appears it was the Wuhan Virus after all?” Husted tweeted.
That sparked a backlash, including a letter signed by 69 members of Upper Arlington’s Asian-American community.
“Lt. Gov. Husted, your choice of words has only raised the anxiety and fear that Asians and Asian Americans in Upper Arlington are currently experiencing,” the letter, obtained by WCMH-TV, said. “We want to believe that you did not have as your goal to make your neighbors feel even more frightened and even more vulnerable.”
In a Thursday press conference, Husted said his tweet was in no way directed against Asian Americans or the Chinese people generally. Rather, it was to highlight a “probable coverup” of the coronavirus outbreak by the Chinese government, he said.
“It’s not just me who is asking these questions,” Husted said, listing the Biden administration, the European Union and Australia as wanting an independent investigation into what happened in China during the early days of the outbreak.
“It is the belief of many that the coronavirus originated there well in advance of when the Chinese government disclosed it,” Husted said. “The culpability that I believe the Chinese government has is important.”
Indeed, there are longstanding questions about a possible coverup of the initial outbreak by officials in secretive, authoritarian China. And the Biden administration is pressing Beijing to cough up the scientific data it has from the earliest days of the pandemic.
But Husted didn’t answer directly when asked if he agreed with Redfield’s assertion that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory. Most experts believe that’s highly unlikely. They believe instead that the virus originated in bats and made the jump to humans at some as-yet undiscovered point.
Husted also didn’t answer when asked if his criticisms extended to former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the pandemic, mocked mask wearing, pushed quack remedies and sidelined experts in favor of a television personality without subject matter expertise. Deborah Birx, Trump’s coronavirus response coordinator, last weekend suggested to CNN that Trump’s bungled response to the pandemic may have cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
The hangover from Trump’s pandemic response might be showing itself to be particularly costly now.
On Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine said that despite a quickly accelerating vaccine program, the spread of the coronavirus in Ohio is again speeding up as well. The number of new cases reported over the past 24 hours was 2,475, more than double the 21-day average of 1,672.
Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer with the Ohio Department of Health, said much of the increase is attributable to the growing dominance of faster-spreading variants of the virus. The variants are particularly present in the counties near Ohio’s border with Michigan, which has emerged as a hotspot for them, Vanderhoff said.
To further boost vaccines, DeWine is taking steps such as starting a campus vaccination program to get shots in college students’ arms before they go home at the beginning of May.
“We have to understand that we are in a battle,” DeWine said. “But we have a pretty big cannon and that cannon is the vaccine.”
But Trump’s coronavirus antics appear to have sapped that cannon of some of its firepower.
An NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist survey conducted last month found that 49% of Republican men and 47% of Trump supporters had no plans to get a vaccine. Fewer people getting vaccinated allows coronavirus variants to accelerate their spread even further.
Republican governors in states such as Texas and Mississippi also appear to be following Trump’s lead by eliminating requirements for masking and social distancing in public spaces.