Stop panicking and go eat in the ID—so long as youre not experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Stop panicking and go eat in the ID—so long as you're not experiencing flu-like symptoms. JESSICA STEIN
At dinnertime on a Sunday, Green Leaf is usually packed—and for good reason. It rules.

But last Sunday evening, while Seattleites swamped Costcos and news of the COVID-19 outbreak intensified, owner Peter Kuang said servers at his 200-seat Vietnamese restaurant in the Chinatown-International District sat a table of 10 and a table of 5. That was it.

Though the Lunar New Year season is normally especially busy in the neighborhood, Kuang said revenues at Green Leaf have declined by 40% in the last two months. Friends with restaurants in the ID tell him they've lost up to 60% of their business during the same period. In response to such dramatic losses, bosses have had to cut hours for servers and kitchen staff.

"It’s a very difficult time," Kuang said. "Travel businesses and others are affected, but anything connected to the food industry is getting hit hard."

A health care provider with a chiropractic office in the ID said her regular lunch spots have been "empty" for weeks. She also said she's seen a drop in her own business, but it hasn't been as bad as some of the restaurants. (The owner didn't want to be named for fear of drawing negative attention to her business.)

"I think many people have panicked, and now they’re afraid. They’re afraid to come to the ID," she said. "Hopefully this situation can be resolved soon."

Misinformation and sensationalized reports of the virus' origins in the meat markets of Wuhan have tapped into a long history of racist tropes related to Asian immigrants and appear to have depressed commercial activity in the ID.

Sarah Baker, president of the Seattle chapter of Japanese American Citizens League, said she's heard reports of direct discrimination. "People are trying to avoid places where Asian people are going to be, which is completely unfounded," she said. "And there have been incidents within the community of people being avoided—people getting on the bus and others moving away from them just because they’re Asian."

On Monday Washington Department of Health secretary John Wiesman stressed that Asians are not any more likely to be vectors for the disease than anyone else. "Viruses have no idea of what race or ethnicity you are," Wiesman said. "[Race or ethnicity] has nothing to do with the transmission...This virus is not about one particular community."

Right now, public health officials are telling people to wash their hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds. They're also encouraging elderly people with compromised immune systems and flu-like symptoms to stay away from large gatherings. They're not telling people to avoid Chinese restaurants that serve truly mind-blowing cucumber salads.

In fact, to help combat stigma, Wiesman called for people to "visit Asian businesses who are being unfairly targeted to show support for the community."

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Last week Mayor Jenny Durkan sat with Kuang and other community leaders at her monthly cabinet meeting at Honey Court Seafood Restaurant to more or less say the same thing. "The idea was to say that everything is cool, everything is nice, and there's nothing to be afraid of," Kuang said. "Come hang out in Chinatown!"

Toshiko Hasegawa, executive director of Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs said the future for businesses in the area is uncertain. Last year, when "Snowmageddon" cut into Lunar New Year celebrations, the community held events later in the year to try to make up for some of the losses.

"But there’s really no timeline or telling, because we’re at the brink of an apex of the current outbreak. We’ll see what happens," Hasegawa said. "In the meantime, all we can do is try to make sure we’re coupling messages of anti-stigma with updates going around about keeping yourself safe, clean, and healthy."

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