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Mayor Sylvester Turner ate at Ocean Palace Restaurant in Chinatown Thursday imploring Houstonians to "enjoy your life" and not let fear get the best of them.
Mayor Sylvester Turner ate at Ocean Palace Restaurant in Chinatown Thursday imploring Houstonians to "enjoy your life" and not let fear get the best of them.
Photo by Kate McLean

Mayor Turner Implores Houstonians To Not Let Fear Take Over

As of Thursday, five cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, (four in Harris County, one in Fort Bend County, all reportedly related to the same trip to Egypt in February) have been confirmed. It was coming. We knew it. Now it’s here. 

Supermarkets are cleared of bare essentials; toilet paper, Advil, you name it. Fistbumps—even foot taps—have replaced the handshake, and hand sanitizer now follows most interactions as an obvious after thought. (Although now folks are saying fistbumps are no improvement over a handshake. Just wave.)

“It’s hard for me to pull back some. I shake a lot of hands, [I’ve] reduced the number of hands I shake, I smile more,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said Thursday at Ocean Palace Restaurant hours before a press conference where city officials would announce the first verified cases of coronavirus within Harris County. The Mayor visited Chinatown for lunch with State Representative Gene Wu, as well as his executive staff and community members—and not on the taxpayers dime. Turner says he picked up the tab.

The mayor said: “Enjoy the lunch, go to dinner, go to the rodeo, take a bike, train, and live your life, but just do it in a safe [way], [exercising] common sense. We don’t want the fear to put us at a point where we are doing more damage to ourselves than the virus itself.” He assured the city that the spread of the virus was being taken seriously, and that officials would be transparent in the process.

A show of confidence from the mayor of Houston could only be because a massive wrong is taking place — the unfounded fear that by frequenting an Asian establishment, the coronavirus might be contracted. The moment the virus left China, it put us all in the same boat and while COVID-19 is thought to predominately spread person-to-person and there is not yet a vaccine, it most definitely does not prefer one ethnicity over another.

Since the first recorded cases of coronavirus in the United States over a month ago, Asian businesses all over the city, all over the country have felt the cold shoulder and now, some will no doubt succumb to the effects of empty dining rooms and labor cuts.

In the wake of a late-January post on popular Chinese social media app, WeChat, that falsely supposed a case of COVID-19 originated at JUSGO Supermarket, the drastic loss of clientele—most of which are Chinese— has Chinatown businesses wincing week after week with sales plummeting.  The hashtag #supportchinatown has fluttered across social media urging those to take a visit, bring ten friends.

Though doctors and scientists have not settled on estimating the mortality rate, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it is thought to be higher than most strains of the flu. So far, 12 people in the United States have died, and as of late Thursday four cases in the greater Houston area are being quarantined and monitored.

Jason Elmore, who lives in Fort Bend County, and attended the Willie Nelson concert Wednesday at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, along with 70,000 other people, says he never felt hesitant about going to the show. “The crowd was loud and cheering, if you did not know about the virus, you would think it was the rodeo like any other night.” Elmore, who usually visits the rodeo yearly, says he did notice fewer vendors selling throughout the stands as well as not as many portable concession booths this year.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo declined to be interviewed by phone for comment, but in a statement issued to the Houston Press Thursday, they listed increased precautions like double the amount of hand sanitizer stations as well more cleaning staff on hand.

“The rodeo is working daily with the Houston Health Department to ensure the safety and well-being of our guests. We have developed a webpage that contains health tips on visiting the Rodeo, along with links to both the Houston Health Department’s Emergency Operations Center, Harris County’s readyharris.org and the Center for Disease Control websites on Coronavirus.”

Meanwhile Tao La, part owner of Houston Vietnamese staple, Kim Son, says the restaurant has seen 50 to 60 percent decrease in business at their Bellaire location—in Sugar Land, 30 percent. Downtown Houston, 10 percent.

“People have overly reacted. Of course, we need to be worried because there is no vaccine yet, but still we need to live our life. [This is affecting] not only the Asian community, the American community too, the food industry, the airline industry,” says La.

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