The sponsors of two major Chinese Lunar New Year fairs in Palo Alto that would have drawn thousands of celebrants have canceled the events due to concern over the potential spread of the coronavirus. The illness originated in Wuhan City, China, in late December, and cases are now being found in other countries, including the U.S.
The 2020 Palo Alto Chinese New Year Fair, which was to take place Feb. 16, and the Avenidas Chinese Community Center's Lunar New Year Celebration, scheduled for Jan. 30, were canceled out an abundance of caution, the events' sponsors said. Neither organization plans to reschedule the New Year festivities.
The sometimes fatal disease causes fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. China's National Health Commission has reported more than 4,500 cases and 106 deaths in the country.
Severe cases can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Five cases have been confirmed in the U.S., including in southern California, among people who had traveled to Wuhan, according to the CDC.
Santa Clara County health officials said the risk of becoming infected locally is low at this time, but the Palo Alto events sponsors said they felt canceling the New Year celebrations was the right thing to do. Palo Alto's Chinese New Year Fair attracts thousands of people who share food, demonstrations and activities.
"Due to the uncertainty and the risk of the Wuhan novel coronavirus epidemic, the 2020 PA CNY (Palo Alto Chinese New Year) Fair committee voted last night to cancel this year's CNY fair," committee members Lily Chiu, Steven Lee and Ann Xu wrote in a Jan. 23 email. "We believe being prudent at this critical time is a responsibility to our community.
"We are saddened that after about four months of hard work by the whole committee on preparing for the event, we must make this decision at this point. We hope the situation will improve soon," they wrote.
That decision was followed by the cancellation of the event by Avenidas, a Palo Alto nonprofit that serves seniors and their families. Already, some seniors have been showing up for classes wearing protective masks, according to Amy Andonian, Avenidas president and CEO.
Avenidas hasn't canceled its classes, but staff members are educating seniors on how to recognize the disease's symptoms and take precautions. Staff are working with a medical supplies vendor to find masks to give to seniors for free, she said.
The organization decided to follow suit after learning on Jan. 24 of the Palo Alto Chinese New Year Fair Committee's decision.
"In particular we're serving the elderly, who are more at risk," Andonian said.
Staff also considered the logistics. Their event takes place at Cubberley Community Center in a large room, but the space can be crowded when 150 seniors show up.
Many of the Chinese seniors who attend Avenidas' programs do travel frequently to China, potentially exposing themselves to the virus, Andonian said. Talking with health providers and the agency's insurer, the organization staff weighed the pros and cons.
"The biggest concern is that the virus is to be at its peak in the next 14 days because of the New Year. Maybe the risk is small, but it's not worth it. … We don't want to take any risk," she said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Santa Clara County Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody said during a press conference in San Jose that there are no reported cases of the novel coronavirus in the county nor in the Bay Area. She noted there are many forms of coronaviruses. The common cold is caused by a coronavirus, she said.
Still, the county public health department is working closely with other agencies. It has activated the county's Emergency Operations Center mainly because there is so much information to disseminate and the center offers the most expedient way to distribute the information to all agencies and medical facilities.
The county is not suggesting any general actions for people to take, such as wearing masks, unless one is ill.
Unless a person recently traveled to Wuhan or was in close contact with someone who was ill who recently traveled in that area, there is little risk of coming down with the disease, the public health department said in a statement.
The department cautioned against going to large group gatherings in general since influenza and other respiratory viruses are highly common right now. The health department also emphasized that everyone should get a flu shot to protect against influenza, which can produce similar symptoms to the coronavirus.
The San Mateo County Health Department said that reports of a case in Daly City are false. There are no cases of the novel coronavirus in the county.
Coronaviruses are infections found in some species of animals including camels, cattle, cats and bats. On rare occasions, it can mutate to infect humans. Recent outbreaks of coronavirus included the serious diseases Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), which jumped from camels, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), which mutated from civet cats, according to the CDC.
The disease in Wuhan, called 2019-nCoV, was not known before in humans. Its DNA profile has since been identified. Many patients infected by the virus were initially linked to a large seafood and live animal market, which suggested that the virus jumped from an animal to a person. A growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, however, indicating person-to-person spread is occurring, according to the CDC. Person-to-person spread is not known to have occurred in the U.S. cases.
More information and updates about the novel coronavirus can be found on the Santa Clara County Public Health Department's website.
Santa Clara County also has a call center open to answer questions about the coronavirus Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 408-885-3980.
The county has an anonymous 24-hour crisis line for anyone feeling stressed and overwhelmed about the coronavirus. It is available daily, including holidays, at 800-704-0900 (Mental Health Services) or at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Disaster Distress Helpline, available 24 hours at 800-985-5990 or by texting TALKWITHUS to 66746 (Press 2 for Spanish).
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by the Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online here.