San Francisco Chinatown Affected By Coronavirus Fears, Despite No Confirmed Cases
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
There are no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus among San Francisco residents, but the city's mayor has nevertheless declared a local state of emergency. The move frees up resources for emergency planning and paves the way for state and federal funds to help the city respond to the expected arrival of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the city's Chinatown is already feeling the financial effects of fears over the virus. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Julie Chang reports.
JULIE CHANG, BYLINE: San Francisco's Chinatown is usually bustling with energy. The neighborhood is known for attracting visitors from all over the world. But these days...
KEVIN CHAN: And you walk on the street - you see less people, less tourists.
J CHANG: Kevin Chan is the owner of the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. It's been in his family for almost 60 years. And the last month has been especially difficult for this legacy tourist attraction.
CHAN: And everybody's just scared - scared to come to the Chinese communities.
J CHANG: Chan says his business has seen 70- to 80% fewer people, especially during the recent Lunar New Year celebration.
CHAN: But the virus came and hit us, you know, extra. And then the new year was terrible - the worst new year I ever had in my life. I'm 51 years old.
J CHANG: He says he's even had to turn off one of his three cookie-making machines.
CHAN: My machine's been off for almost two weeks now because I don't want to make more cookies that power up and is not fresh. I always make fresh cookie out every day.
J CHANG: Still, Chan remains hopeful.
CHAN: Don't need to be scared. We need you here. We need your motivation and encouragement. Please come.
J CHANG: In fact, someone who did come to Chinatown this week was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, visiting her San Francisco House district to boost business and show solidarity.
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NANCY PELOSI: I'm here today particularly to say thank you to the community for the sense of family values and sense of community that they provide.
J CHANG: Pelosi called any fear unwarranted, as the U.S. has taken the necessary precautions to protect the public.
Lily Lo, who runs a nonprofit that helps small businesses in Chinatown, says she's heard from restaurant owners that they've had to cut employee hours. She says some restaurants only serve one table for the entire night.
LILY LO: But if they have 12 employee - and they have to let them go. And some of the restaurant have to close.
J CHANG: Others have resorted to laying off staff or not serving dinner.
LO: It's hurting a lot of the small business.
J CHANG: Lo says while Pelosi's gesture was nice, she wonders if others, like Governor Gavin Newsom, could do something, too.
Southern California resident Regina Odin is in San Francisco for business this week. She's no stranger to Chinatown. In fact, she visits...
REGINA ODIN: I'd say four or five times a year.
J CHANG: Each time, she stops by the Fortune Cookie Factory and buys some for her family. Then she usually lunches in the area since she's in the neighborhood, but not this time.
ODIN: I'm basically just here to grab the cookies and go back to my hotel. I'm getting ready to go back for my flight this afternoon. I do have time for lunch today, and I just have chosen not to spend a lot of time here. Just the overall atmosphere, the scare that's - I mean, I just - going to be safe about that.
J CHANG: And public health officials say they get the concern. Veronica Vien with the San Francisco Department of Public Health says at this time, residents of the Bay Area remain a low risk of becoming infected with COVID-19, but...
VERONICA VIEN: Given the amount of travel between San Francisco and China, we understand a confirmed case in San Francisco is possible.
J CHANG: However, Vien says there are no current cases of the coronavirus in the city, and the public health department says it's important to remember that a person's risk depends on travel history, not on race, ethnicity or culture.
For NPR News, I'm Julie Chang in San Francisco.
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