Quincy lawmakers address impact of coronavirus fears on community

Massachusetts State House. (Photo by Aaron Ye/BU News Service)

By Shannon Larson
BU News Service

BOSTON – Massachusetts is moving ahead with detailed plans to combat the potential
spread of the COVID-19 virus as Quincy lawmakers joined Gov. Charlie Baker on
Thursday in stressing there’s no need to fear the novel coronavirus that is infecting a
growing number of people in China and other parts of the world.

“This remains a low threat,” Baker told reporters at the Statehouse Thursday. “I would just
remind everybody that we have 30,000 affirmed flu cases this year already, and that just
represents the ones that have actually been swabbed. I’m sure there are far more of those.”

That was echoed by state Rep. Tackey Chan, D-Quincy, and State Sen. John Keenan, D-
Quincy, who acknowledged higher levels of anxiety and discrimination in the community based on Quincy’s large Chinese population.

“As a result of the stigma, there has been a clear negative impact on businesses owned by
different Asian ethnic groups,” Chan wrote in a Facebook post. “While COVID-19 is a
critical global health issue that deserves great attention, it should not take away our ability
to support our local businesses.”

Apprehension over the outbreak of the disease, which was originally detected in Wuhan,
China, and has since spread to infect more than 82,000 worldwide, has escalated, having
an impact on the global economy and sparking unease over a potential pandemic.

“This is still an unknown. It’s an unknown as to exactly how it transmitted,” Keenan said. “I have heard very few stories but I have heard a few where people have been discriminated against. And you do hear a little bit about, should we be more worried in Quincy because of our Chinese population or Asian population?”

There have been more than 60 cases of the virus reported in the United States, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the vast majority of them
stemming from residents who had traveled abroad or had been in close contact with
people who had.

Quincy lawmakers address impact of coronavirus fears on community

A northern California woman is believed to be the first diagnosed with coronavirus in the
country who had no known connection to travel abroad – what officials are referring to as
case of “community spread” and for which they are on high alert. Since then there have
been three other confirmed cases of community spread in the Northwest areas of Oregon
and Washington.

Since the beginning of early February, there have been almost daily conversations
between those including the Department of Public Health and the CDC, Baker said,
adding he plans to release a comprehensive plan next week on how the state will respond.

“We’ve also been talking to our colleagues in the health care and hospital world for the
past several couple of weeks,” Baker said. “I would expect that at the beginning of next
week, we’ll probably have a fully formulated plan that we can show people.”

Only one case of coronavirus in Massachusetts has been reported – a man in his 20s who
is a student at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He had recently traveled from
Wuhan, China, and sought medical attention shortly after he returned.

With Asian-American communities facing extra scrutiny over the past several weeks, the
Quincy legislators were adamant that the risk level in their city is as low as anywhere else
in the state.

Nearly a third of Quincy’s population of 94,000 is accounted for by the Asian-American
community, according to census data. And local Chinese market and restaurant owners
have reported that business has been severely impacted as a result of general public fears.

“There is a bit of racism because the assumption is that I have the coronavirus just because
of how I look,” said Chan. “I mean, that’s just wrong.”

The “massive downshift” in commerce is better than it was a few weeks ago, Chan said. He
toured the area on Sunday – which he documented and later uploaded on his Facebook
page — to show the diversity of businesses in the area and dispel harmful rumors.
Keenan said despite social media and news coverage suggesting otherwise, the risk of
coronavirus in the Quincy community is no more so than in any other locale in the state
or across the country.

This article was originally published on The Patriot Ledger.

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