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Photo by Dean Moses
A Flushing resident on Main Street wears a face mask to protect herself from coronavirus that has caused panic and fear in the community.

As the city reports there are now three individuals under investigation for novel coronavirus, Flushing residents are taking precaution to protect themselves from the virus that has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

What was supposed to be a joyous celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year in the community has instead resulted in fear, isolation, and a decline in the business sector amid growing concerns of the virus, which was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. There have been over 14,000 confirmed infections so far, and the virus has claimed more than 300 lives to date. 

“Business after the Lunar New Year is becoming tough,” said Peter Tu, executive director of the Flushing Chinese Business Association. “I heard that businessmen are losing more than 30 percent — that’s the situation right now and people are much more worried about how the coronavirus is going to be. Before Lunar New Year, it wasn’t that serious, but now after hearing a patient is hospitalized in Flushing, there are some people that refuse to come out to downtown Flushing.”

On Sunday, Feb. 3, the city Health Department said two individuals, each over 60 years old who had recently traveled to mainland China, had reported symptoms of coronavirus that includes fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The first individual has been hospitalized at Flushing Hospital Medical Center. The second is hospitalized at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. 

Meanwhile, another patient, who was first reported with the symptoms, remains at Bellevue Hospital. All three individuals are in stable condition. Testing to determine whether these are confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus will take a minimum of 36 to 48 hours and depends on the CDC testing capacity, according to the city’s Health Department. 

The Health Department has not received results of the CDC test, and will share information about the test as soon as the results are provided. While some infections have resulted in severe illness, and even death, others have presented with milder symptoms and been discharged from care, according to the city Health Department. 

In Flushing, residents walking along Main Street and taking public transportation have been observed wearing face masks in fear of contracting the virus, which had not been previously detected in humans before this winter. 

Photo by Dean Moses

To educate the community and dispel rumors of coronavirus, local elected officials and community organizations held a press conference at Glow Community Center in Flushing on Jan. 31 reassuring the public that New York City residents are at low risk, and are highly prepared in case of an outbreak.  

“Though no one in the New York area has tested positive and hopefully it will stay that way, we must continue to be prepared should that change, and our level of preparedness must be high,” Congresswoman Grace Meng said in a statement to QNS.

“But nobody should be panicking. People should go about their daily routine but be vigilant and prudent. They should follow, as always, the advice of our health professionals: avoid contact with sick people; wash your hands often with soap and water,” added Meng, who has been in constant contact with the CDC and city and state health departments to help monitor developments. 

City Councilman Peter Koo has also attended five press conferences to educate the community and is speaking with the DOH daily to keep apprised of any new updates, according to his spokesman, Scott Sieber.

“We are working closely with DOH and the Mayor’s office to share resources, community-based organizations like senior centers and healthcare provider contacts to make sure everyone has all the information they need to serve their respective constituencies,” Sieber said.

Photo by Dean Moses

Across the city, Wellington Chen, the executive director of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation, said the spread of coronavirus is “being blown out of proportion.” 

“The normal flu every year kills a lot more people and when I was at the CVS pharmacy this weekend, I didn’t see a long line of people taking flu shots,” Chen said. “It’s causing unnecessary fear and if you compare the statistics of a normal flu every year, the degree of comparison should be based on that … this [coronavirus] is not of the degree and magnitude yet.”

According to Chen, businesses — restaurants and gift shops — in Chinatown and Sunset Park have also seen a decline in sales and customers. 

The timing of the virus scare is very unfortunate, Chen said, as the Chinese community is dealing with the aftermath of a fire at the Museum of Chinese in America on Jan. 23, followed by the death of a 90-year-old man who was struck by a driver on Jan. 25. 

“It has not been a happy moment for this community for quite a few days,” Chen said. “Also, in the past, we got hit by the 2003 SARS scare and superstorm Sandy and this has not been helpful to the recovery of a fragile community.” 

In response to reports of the Asian community experiencing racism and fear now spreading along with coronavirus, Chen also deemed it as unfortunate.

“If you look at the Ebola outbreak and health scares before, it doesn’t require the entire community to be ostracized,” Chen said. “We’ve come a long way and the world now has a much better understanding with better health care professionals and medical facilities.”

Although he doesn’t wear a face mask, he says everyone has the right to make their own personal decision. 

Photo by Dean Moses

Since declaring the coronavirus a nationwide public health emergency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said emergency physicians are taking the threat of an outbreak seriously, but stress that the risk to the broader public remains low. 

“At this time, the risk in the U.S. of contracting coronavirus remains low,” said William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “It is important to understand your risk factors and practice good hygiene.” 

Health Department officials are conducting outreach and are providing guidance to local community-based organizations and healthcare providers serving communities to inform residents of the necessary precautions they need to take if someone with symptoms of coronavirus visits them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging anyone that has been in the Wuhan, China, region within the last two weeks and has developed a fever, cough or difficulty breathing to seek medical care. 

“Americans are far more likely to get the flu than the coronavirus, but you protect yourself against both viruses the same way: get the flu shot, wash your hands regularly and cough or sneeze into your arm or a tissue,” Dr. Jaquis said.

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