SF Lunar New Year Attendees Only Mildly Concerned About Coronavirus

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Chinese Consul General in San Francisco Wang Donghua (third from the left) held a press conference on Saturday, February 1, 2020, to mitigate public concerns of the first Bay Area novel coronavirus case amid the global outbreak. (Julie Chang/KQED)

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After the first case of novel coronavirus in the Bay Area was reported on Friday, some Lunar New Year celebrations in the region were canceled or postponed.

But not San Francisco's second annual Ocean Avenue celebration, which took place on Saturday. We spoke with some of its attendees to see how they felt about the global outbreak of the virus.

The short answer: People were only mildly concerned.

San Francisco resident Michael Lum said he's "not particularly concerned" about catching the virus as most of the cases seem to be concentrated in the region of Wuhan, China, also adding that several countries have implemented quarantine and screening practices.

Lum said canceling public events seemed unnecessary.

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"In this geographic vicinity, I think, [it] probably was an overreaction," he said. "Just because of the fact that there's been so much more media exposure to this particular contagion, everybody's really panicking."

The media's role in causing panic was a common theme.

Libby Lee-David, another San Francisco local, attended Saturday's celebration to watch her two daughters perform a ribbon dance.

She said her oldest daughter grew really concerned when she began exhibiting flu-like symptoms last week. "She actually started looking at symptoms of the coronavirus, thinking that [it] might have impacted her," Lee-David said.

"She's an eighth grader, and I think they talked about it amongst themselves. Also, a lot of the information they get is through social media," Lee-David added.

Another attendee, Livia Lawrenz, said she's been hearing about the coronavirus on the news but believes the flu is more dangerous.

She's right: The influenza killed more than 10,000 Americans last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lawrenz said she's not worried about coronavirus, and she doesn't know anyone who is.

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A press conference held on the same day by the Chinese Consul General in San Francisco Wang Donghua, where he assured the public that "there's no need for panicking."

Although the World Health Organization declared a global public health emergency last week due to the coronavirus, Donghua said places with good public health systems, like San Francisco, needn't worry.

"The concern with the WHO is potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker public health system which are ill-prepared to deal with it," he said.

"The public health infrastructure in this country is more than capable of containing the disease," said John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley public health professor and infectious disease specialist. He added that the U.S. has the resources, the knowledge base and the will to take care of it.

Officials have been advising the public to get the flu shot instead. Swartzberg said the flu is a more dangerous threat than the coronavirus to people in the Bay Area.

Bay Area public health officials have stressed that there's no evidence to suggest that the virus is spreading in the region.

As it stands now, there are nine reported cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., and four of those cases are in California.

In China, there have been 14,411 cases confirmed, and over 300 deaths.