SUNSET PARK — With small businesses and restaurants struggling in the wake of coronavirus fears, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce met on Monday, Feb. 24 at Park Asia Restaurant in Sunset Park to discuss the situation.
The Chamber was joined at the eatery, 6521 Eighth Ave., by local community leaders, small business owners and representatives of local elected officials to dispel the fear and encourage continued support for local businesses.
The neighborhood has experienced a significant loss of customers since the announcement of the coronavirus, despite the fact that not one single case of the disease has been detected in the city let alone in Brooklyn’s Chinatown, which includes Sunset Park and Bensonhurst.
Attending the event were President and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Randy Peers; Brooklyn Chamber Chief Operating Officer Rick Russo; Chamber board member Kenny Guan of Guan Realty; Maggie Gu, board member and owner of Park Asia restaurant; and Dr. Michael Phillips, chief epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health, along with Chamber board members, civic leaders and business owners.
“The purpose of this convening is twofold,” said Peers. “Number one, we’re certainly going to talk about the virus itself, but more importantly it was to bring business leaders from across Brooklyn together to better understand the impact from all of you and how it’s affecting businesses right on the ground, day in and day out, at this critical time,” added Peers.
“What we are dealing with here is the emergence of a specific type of coronavirus, a very common viral infection that has multiple strains,” explained Phillips, an infectious disease doctor focused on preventing the spread of diseases who previously worked at the Department of Health and the CDC. “You’ve probably gotten a coronavirus over the past year, but what’s different about this coronavirus and some of the others that have emerged is that this one is a distant cousin to SARS and it’s a cousin to MERS, which is another coronavirus that emerged out of the Middle East.”
Although we all should be concerned, Phillips said, he stressed that he believes that China’s quick response to the outbreak of the virus has given doctors time to mobilize against it. “We need to start thinking about this as a very severe flu. It transmits like the flu, which means there are certain things we can do to keep ourselves and our community safe,” he added.
Phillips recommended following the standard CDC guidelines to help stop the spread of any respiratory viruses. These include washing hands with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding close contact with anyone who is sick and staying home if you are sick yourself.
Phillips said that forums such as the one at Park Asia are valuable because, “There’s a lot of information we can provide to counteract some of the misinformation that’s out there.”
Brooklyn resident and New York City hotel owner William Su wanted everyone to know that New York is still safe. “I hope that people will live their lives as usual. If they are scared they won’t go out to eat, and this is the main thing that’s hurting all of the businesses,” said Su.
Yi (Jane) Duong, director of outreach from State Sen. Andrew Gounardes’ office, recounted that this past weekend she had asked a friend to go out to dinner with her in Chinatown and her friend had said no because of rumors she had heard about the virus.
“I just want to assure everybody in the community that we have one of the best health departments here in New York City, and they are very transparent and update information daily,” explained Duong.
The latest statistics show tens of thousands of people worldwide have been infected with the new strain of coronavirus. Many international experts are predicting that the disease will continue to spread globally.
The cumulative total worldwide is 80,200 individuals infected. At least 2,704 have died from the virus. Fourteen coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the U.S., none in New York City or New York State.