Several Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year celebrations around Maryland were canceled after widespread concern about the coronavirus from local Chinese communities.
“We really heard strongly from the community that they felt like it made sense to be as cautious as possible,” said Marylou Berg, communications director for the city of Rockville, which canceled its Lunar New Year celebration scheduled for Saturday. “We agreed with them.”
Celebrations at Howard County Chinese School and the American Chinese School in Gaithersburg were canceled as well.
As of Wednesday, 6,070 cases of the coronavirus, which causes respiratory illness, have been identified around the world, including five confirmed cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is monitoring the outbreak.
There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Maryland, though one resident met the criteria for testing, the Maryland Department of Health said on Monday. The individual is in good condition and is being monitored while awaiting the test results.
Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), a Chinese-American, says that he can certainly understand the rationale for not wanting to be exposed to the illness.
“There’s a lot of traveling back and forth between China this time of year,” Lam said. “People want to be with their friends and family. There’s a lot of concern about the potential exposure risk.”
But Lam, who is a physician, says the risk is very low and it’s important to put the coronavirus into context. About 60,000 people die each year from the flu in the United States alone.
“The public is far more likely to contract an ordinary flu than coronavirus,” Lam said.
Berg said that Rockville canceled its event only out of “an abundance of caution.”
“There is no need for immediate concern,” Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said in a news release Wednesday, emphasizing the state is taking the issue very seriously.
Residents are being asked to wash their hands and stay home from work or school if they’re not feeling well.
“Maryland is fortunate to have some of the top health research facilities in the world, and I am confident in our state’s ability to respond to any potential cases of the virus, and I expect that we will be a leader in developing treatments and perhaps even a vaccine,” Hogan said.
The Maryland Department of Health is working with the CDC Quarantine Station to respond to incoming travelers from China and other areas experiencing ongoing coronavirus transmission. The department is also coordinating with the University System of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University to address concerns with their respective student populations. Local health departments are working with local colleges.
“It’s a pretty hard topic,” said Cindy Shao, president of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce. “Especially for people from mainland China. They have concerns right now, many people are trying to get a facemask and supplies.”
Shao said that many people in local Chinese communities are making efforts to donate money or supplies to China.
Concerns about the spread of the virus have led to the other cancellations of Lunar New Year celebrations around the world, including Paris’ Lunar New Year parade and various Lunar New Year celebrations in Beijing.