The novel coronavirus has not yet affected the health of Queens residents, but the disease has greatly impacted Chinese-run businesses, especially in Flushing.
According to an estimate by the Flushing Chinese Business Association, the neighborhood has seen a 40 percent decrease in business since the rapidly spreading illness became a national concern, despite there being no confirmed cases in the state.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), Councilmember Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and various representatives from city and state health departments as well as Flushing business representatives, attended a Feb. 13 press conference hosted by Mayor de Blasio at the New World Mall in Flushing to encourage New Yorkers to continue patronizing Asian-American owned small business.
“In hard times, New Yorkers know to stand by their neighbors. We’re in Flushing today to embrace Asian-American-owned small businesses and say to all New Yorkers: New York City’s Chinatowns are open for business!” de Blasio said at the conference.
The disease, officially referred to as Covid-19 as of Feb. 13, has claimed over 1,357 lives and infected over 60,000 individuals worldwide, according to a live CBS count.
Gov. Cuomo announced on Monday, Feb. 10, that there continue to be no confirmed cases in the state, though test results on one potential case in Queens remain pending. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tested 23 state samples since the outbreak, 22 of which have come back negative.
Despite the low risk of contracting the disease, fear-induced discrimination toward Asian Americans, especially Chinese Americans, has notably increased.
“There is no reason to avoid public settings, including subways and — most of all — our city’s famous Chinese restaurants and small businesses,” said city Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “While it is understandable for some New Yorkers to feel concerned about the novel coronavirus situation, we cannot stand for racist and stigmatizing rhetoric, or for myths and half-truths about the virus.”
Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) warned of racism at a Jan. 31 press conference on the disease, stating that fear of its spread is not an excuse to discriminate.
“Naturally, there is much concern about coronavirus. But we must not abandon our small businesses based on unfounded fears,” said Meng in a statement following the event. “As I have said, people must not panic about coronavirus. People should be vigilant and prudent but they should go about their regular routines, and that includes continuing to support the many wonderful small businesses that call Flushing home.”
The conference advised the public to take preventive steps against contracting the illness that include cleanliness and visiting physicians if one isn’t feeling well, rather than avoiding persons based on race.
“Risks of infection in New York remains low, but I am gravely concerned by the increased xenophobia against the Asian American population in our city, specifically the Chinese community,” Dr. Henry Chen, President of Somos Community Care in Manhattan. “When people play off stereotypes, it distracts from the real risks and can lead to misperception and misinformation about the source of the virus.”
Despite the low risk of contracting the infection, Cuomo stated on Feb. 10 that he expects the disease to eventually make its way to the state. In a released statement, the governor called a New York infection “inevitable” and said he would not want to set a “false precedent” by claiming coronavirus would not come here.
The CDC and state DOH advise New Yorkers to continue safe practices as they would for any other illness, such as washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Individuals are also encouraged to avoid close contact with sick people, to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces and to take precautions for others if one were to become ill, such as staying home if feeling unwell and covering a cough or sneeze with a tissue that should then be immediately discarded.
The DOH also reminds citizens to take similar precautions against the flu, an illness that is more prevalent in the state than Covid-19.