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KN95 mask
Patrick Pleul/dpa

House Republicans are returning to the sort of rhetoric that experts say has fueled thousands of racist incidents against people of Asian descent in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The latest object of their ire is their receipt of free KN95 masks intended to protect them from the coronavirus.

After the nonpartisan Congressional Office of the Attending Physician urged lawmakers and their staffs this week to wear N95 or KN95 masks to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, masks were distributed free of charge to congressional offices.

Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs tweeted on Friday that he was outraged that the KN95s — a common face mask recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help curb the spread of COVID-19 — were made in China.

"KN95 masks distributed to House members stamped with 'MADE IN CHINA'. Fitting for the Democrats to hand out masks that are made in the same place the virus originated," he wrote.

Other House Republicans made similar comments.

North Carolina Rep. Greg Murphy baselessly attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying, "We are fighting a virus that came from China, yet the Speaker is comfortable with publicly supporting a Chinese manufacturer, sending our taxpayer dollars overseas and further advertising our dependency on China … on the faces of Congress."

Ohio Rep. Brad Wenstrup said, "The fact that the masks we are mandated to wear in the U.S. Congress are made in China is just one example of our inabilities to protect and treat Americans without relying on adversaries."

Since the earliest days of the pandemic, Republicans have used racist rhetoric about the coronavirus to blame it entirely on China and the Chinese people. Former President Donald Trump frequently used racist terms like "the China virus" and "kung flu," even after public health experts warned that doing so would cause stigma and discrimination.

Researchers pointed to this terminology as a key reason for a large spike in racist incidents against people of Asian descent since the beginning of the pandemic. The group STOP AAPI HATE documented at least 2,700 incidents of workplace discrimination, denial of service, spitting on, verbal abuse, and physical assaults against Asian American people in just the first eight months.

Other GOP lawmakers followed Trump's lead and repeated the terms.

The Wall Street Journal recently documented that N95 and KN95 masks are far more effective at halting the spread of the Omicron variant than cloth or surgical masks.

"We need to educate the public and say that different quality masks offer different protection," University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill clinician and infectious disease specialist Megan Srinivas told the paper, noting that she and her family wear KN95s and that she recommends them for others.

In the past two weeks alone, more than a dozen members of Congress have tested positive for the virus.

While Republicans continue to treat the global pandemic as entirely China's fault, scientists have still not reached any consensus about where and how the coronavirus began.

According to a September 2021 National Geographic report, the U.S. intelligence community agreed that it was "not developed as a biological weapon," but there is no agreement on any other theories about its origin.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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