It's been recently reported that Trump's administration (Trump himself, but also Pompeo) has been referring to COVID-19 as "China virus" or "Wuhan coronavirus" etc., emphasizing the Chinese origin of the virus, despite the WHO's recommendations against using such geographical labelling.

The Trump administration says they are doing this (now) to combat (apparently recent) Chinese propaganda that the COVID-19 was introduced by the US Army to Wuhan during a (friendly) visit. (An accusation for which, I have to say, the Chinese political officials presented no real evidence, and which seems to contradict even what the Chinese scientists have been saying about the same issue.)

How did the US administration (top officials) usually refer to COVID-19 before the Chinese foreign ministry started to make such (unsupported) accusations (i.e. roughly before March 12)?

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    @BobE: I've rolled back your edits as inaccurate. It was a spokesperson who tweeted that, not the foreign minister. Another spokesperson when asked about the same issue in a press conference gave an evasive answer, not endorsing what the first spokesperson said. edition.cnn.com/2020/03/13/asia/… I'm not sure I want incorporate that level of detail in my question. Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 21:59
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    COVID-19 is the name of the disease, not the virus. The virus is named SARS-CoV-2, an awful non-memorable name. Note that nobody in this entire discussion has used the virus's actual name. Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 16:09
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    @KenShirriff : the WHO objects to using the ICTV name in their mass media communications see medicalsciences.stackexchange.com/questions/21201/… Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 16:11

2 Answers 2


Usually, the Trump administration referred to the virus as "coronavirus", "the coronavirus", or, more commonly in press releases and official documents, the official WHO name of "COVID-19". The response team headed by VP Mike Pence was termed the "Coronavirus Task Force", for example.

There are however, instances prior to March 12th, when the allegations were tweeted by a Chinese official for the first time, where a location was attached to the disease.

As far back as the start of February, White House chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow described the virus as "the Chinese virus" in an interview with Fox Business Network.

Mike Pompeo and Republican Senators & Representatives repeatedly used the term "Wuhan Virus" in press briefings and in debates in the weeks leading up to the 12th. On the 9th, GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted a link to the CDC website, saying that it offered "Everything you need to know about the Chinese coronavirus".

On March 10th, Trump retweeted a tweet by Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, which calls the virus "China Virus" and says that "the US stands a chance if we can control of our borders"(sic). In his address on March 11th which announced the travel ban to Schengen countries, Trump described the disease as a "foreign virus".

It should be noted that this is not specific to the Trump administration, indeed, before March, many media outlets also included a geographic adjective in their reporting, including the BBC, the Guardian, Al Jazeera, the Financial Times, Reuters, Scientific American, the Associated Press, the Global Times, and the Washington Post, amongst others. This term then fell out of use towards the end of February, as this analysis by Axios shows, being replaced by the WHO sanctioned terms.

In conclusion, then, while US administration officials usually used the term "coronavirus", or the medical term "COVID-19", there was significant use of a geographic adjective, be that "China", "Chinese", or "Wuhan". While this was not initially exclusive to conservative politicians or administration officials, in the last couple of weeks in response to many claims that the term is racist, offensive, and inaccurate, this language has become far less popular, and now is used in the US almost solely by Republican officials & conservative media outlets, and has become far more frequently used by these individuals.


I'm pretty sure you won't find any published statistical studies on this question sufficient to answer the question about "usual terminology." So any answer would have to be anecdotal and possibly based on memory.

I recall that the media terminology in the early reporting varied between "Wuhan virus" and "coronavirus" in the beginning and, later, began to also include "Covid-19." My memory also informs me that the White House's terminology pattern was not significantly different from that of the media until the Chinese propaganda campaign began which you describe in your question.

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    So, you're basically saying it's a fake outrage by the anti-Trump MSM, who just didn't care about the administration's language before China made those allegations? Interesting new article on this from CNN, by the way, showing a crossed out "corona" replaced with "China" in a Trump speech: edition.cnn.com/2020/03/20/politics/… Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 14:38
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    @Fizz: I think the media used the same language as the administration in the beginning but shifted their language after they realized they could attack Trump politically for it. Then Trump pushed back and doubled down, in part, because of the Chinese propaganda campaign. Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 15:01
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    "shifted their language after they realized they could attack Trump politically for it." Maybe they did so (instead) because the WHO did? Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 15:02
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    @Fizz: I think both can be true simultaneously. The WHO suggested the shift in language. Which made the media realize they could attack Trump for it. Then the media shifted their language. Then the media attacked Trump. Then Trump pushed back. All true. Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 15:06
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    @BobE: That's the question this answer attempts to answer. Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 21:35

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