By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Every day, I pray that Chinatown will be spared from the coronavirus. That’s wishful thinking since it has now become a pandemic. No one expected the wife of Canada’s Prime Minister to get the virus. Yet, she has it, along with Academy-award winner Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson. The virus has killed several seniors at Life Care Center in Kirkland, and Washington state has the highest number of COVID deaths in the United States as of press time.
When rumors broke last week that the International District (ID) had cases, we checked out all of them. One rumor was that a staff member at Luke’s Pharmacy was infected. Owner Sam Chen said that wasn’t true. We later learned that it was someone who works at International House next door. International House management sent out a letter informing its residents on March 10. Community members were concerned as the letter was not translated to Chinese. The seniors who live in the building didn’t know what was going on at first. The news hit me like a ton of bricks.
It is hard to break the news, especially when the community has already been deeply impacted. But it’s our job to inform the community and everyone so they can decide how to best protect themselves.
On the night of March 15, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he intended to shut down restaurants and bars until March 31, allowing takeout and delivery only. President Trump stated that everyone should self-quarantine for 15 days. Whoa, I felt incapacitated! This could destroy immigrant businesses (over 160 and restaurants being the majority) in the ID! It is one of the most vibrant business districts in the City of Seattle. Even Black leader Charlie James called our district an economic powerhouse, and the envy of the Black community.
When Dim Sum King announced that it would temporarily close on March 16, many customers went to buy food from the popular restaurant.
“But it’s not good enough,” said owner Amy Eng. “It’s a difficult decision. Three weeks ago, business was down 50%, now 70%. And things have been getting worse. It’s not worth taking the risk from the virus spread. Safety should be the priority. So I closed the restaurant temporarily until things stabilize.”
What about employees wearing masks to protect themselves during business hours?
Eng’s employees told her that “when they wore masks, customers were afraid to come into the restaurant, and they were afraid to eat their food. When they wore masks to come to work on the bus, people called my employees monkeys.”
Eng has not decided when to reopen the restaurant. The last thing she did, was pay her employees, and she told them to apply for unemployment benefits.
Another restaurant that closed on March 16 was Mike’s Noodle House. Other restaurants like Ho Ho Restaurant, Harbor City, Honey Court, and Sizzling Pot King have posted “Order to go is welcome” signs. But does that help?
“It doesn’t,” said Honey Court’s owner. “There were very few takeouts on March 16.” He already asked some of his 40 employees to take vacation.
“This has never happened before in my decades of being in the restaurant business. It has affected my sleep. I guess if the government can help us with some relief program, I would feel less pressure.”
Other businesses that have closed include Seattle Pinball Museum (on March 2), Wing Luke Museum, and Ghan Sen Herbs.
The oldest bank adjusts to the virus
Washington Federal Savings Bank (WFSB), with 104 branches in the state, closed their lobby on March 16 until further notice. WFSB’s Chinatown branch is the oldest bank in the ID. This is in response to Inslee’s act of declaring a State of Emergency and schools closing for six weeks. Customers can still use the ATM, Drive-Thru (if applicable), and Night Drop.
For withdrawals, customers can do only a small amount so that bank employees can slide the money envelope through the door gap. Customers have to call outside with their cell phone. For a bigger amount, customers have to use the drive-through service at the Rainier Beach and Beacon Hill branches.
Bank of America, Cathay Bank, East West Bank, Key Bank, and Wells Fargo Bank remain open for now.
Lots of unemployed
With all the restaurants closing temporarily, many workers are unemployed. Just in one day, CISC, a nonprofit agency helping immigrants from all over the world, had more than 20 people visiting its office to get information about unemployment benefits. ID restaurants employ more than a thousand people — mostly immigrants working as dishwashers, chefs, waitpersons, busboys, cashiers, receptionists, janitors, and more.
Usually, they live from paycheck to paycheck. They are at a loss on how to survive during this pandemic.
When restaurants are closed, the supply chain suffers. The chain includes produce and noodle companies, and other grocery wholesalers. The impact is massive.
Chinatown library closed
When the city announced on March 13 that all Seattle Public libraries would be closed, it was too late for the Northwest Asian Weekly to share the information with the community. Sorry that we couldn’t give our readers a heads up to check out materials.
You need not worry about returning overdue books because you can return them when libraries reopen on April 13.
The lesson is, in uncertain times, follow the news every day to keep up with the most current information. If you are non-English speaking, you can turn to the Seattle Chinese Post.
One librarian said that the city will be cleaning all the libraries.
One piece of good news
With all the self-quarantines, more people are making their way into Asian grocery stores. And their business is booming. Usually, Asian markets are slow on weekdays, and busy on weekends. Now, their traffic has increased on weekdays. And their instant noodles shelves are cleaned out since people have been stocking up.
The only thing that bothers me is that shoppers seldom wear masks. But cashiers do.
I know most Americans don’t believe in wearing masks to prevent the spreading of diseases.
According to Time.com, Joseph Tsang, an infectious disease specialist who also worked as a consultant for the Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority, says the purpose of wearing a mask is two-fold. “Wearing a mask is not just for protecting yourself from getting infected, but also minimizing the chance of potential infection harboring in your body from spreading to people around you.”
Tsang said the three layers of a mask filter helps to reduce the risk of contact with droplets, through which the virus is transmitted.
In the March 18 issue of the New York Times, an article by Apoorva Mandavilli, said, “For weeks, experts have maintained that the virus is not airborne. But in fact, it can travel through the air and stay suspended for that period of about a half-hour.”
Think of it this way: If there is a one percent chance you can protect yourself and the people around you by wearing a mask, would you do it? The stakes might be too high this time not to wear one.
I would gladly.
My only complaint is, that damn mask is for big-faced people. I have to tighten the strings on both sides to fit my face, nose, and mouth.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.