Sunday February 23, 2020: Statement on U.S. Response to Coronavirus Outbreak

On January 30 the U.S. State Department updated the travel advisory for China to “Level 4: Do Not Travel due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.” Following this advisory, President Trump declared the coronavirus a public health emergency in the United States and signed a proclamation suspending entry of non-U.S. citizens who have traveled to China in the 14 days preceding their attempted entry, except for immediate family of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

The President also mandated quarantine and medical screening of U.S. citizens upon their return to the U.S. Those who have been in China’s Hubei Province in the 14 days preceding their return will be subject to 14 days of mandatory quarantine. Those who have been to other areas of mainland China in the 14 days preceding their return will be subject to screening at the airport of entry and to heightened monitoring for 14 days.

Although a national response to this outbreak is certainly warranted, we are concerned that policies restricting international travel and collaboration may further escalate tensions by fomenting xenophobia out of proportion to the domestic threat of the outbreak. Through this approach, the U.S. is continuing a decades-old tradition of public health policies that encourage the blanket portrayal of Asian immigrants as carriers of terrible diseases. The American Civil Liberties Union also warned that these drastic measures may impinge on civil liberties. Jay Stanley, a ACLU political analyst, urges that “any detention of travelers and citizens must be scientifically justified and no more intrusive on civil liberties than absolutely necessary.” Plus, it is still unclear how much benefit would be gained from these restrictions and quarantines in addition to promoting basic hygiene practices alone.

In recent weeks there has been an increase in media reports of aggression against APIA (Asian Pacific Islander American) community members, particularly those of Chinese descent. These incidents have occasionally become violent, as in the cases of a man who assaulted a Chinese woman in a New York City subway, and an Asian American teen who was hospitalized following an assault by fellow high school students accusing him of having coronavirus. Similarly, there has been a rise in microaggressive actions targeting APIA students on university campuses, including demeaning comments from faculty and peers about Chinese dining and cultural practices. And some news outlets themselves have depicted the outbreak in ways that feed this paranoia, including using images of people wearing face masks without proper context and using blanket images of local Chinatowns in stories about the virus.

We are also alarmed that there is no longer a federal official in charge of coordinating our national response to global health crises and pandemics. The Trump administration eliminated this office two years ago, leaving us with a patchwork of agencies struggling to mount an organized response to the coronavirus outbreak. We therefore call for immediate reinstatement of this position, as this would improve dissemination of information to local governments hoping to respond to cases that emerge. This would also strengthen our ability to collaborate closely with international health organizations and follow their recommendations as more data on the coronavirus becomes available through medical journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Together we can quell this global outbreak through the work of many agencies collaborating to limit its spread while developing a vaccine or novel antivirals, not by closing borders in ways that feed fear and prejudice.

Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA)

Student National Medical Association (SNMA)

American Medical Student Association (AMSA)


Additional links: