Pandemic fever has reached the Sacramento area, even if the dreaded coronavirus hasn’t.
The city of Elk Grove canceled a Chinese New Year celebration, set to take place inside its civic center, one day before the Jan. 31 event. The move came as politicians in other states cautioned against reacting to the health crisis in a way that could fuel anti-Asian xenophobia.
“Everyone wants to be safe, everyone wants to protect their families,” Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu told WBUR after Massachusetts confirmed its first case of coronavirus. “But in an instance like this, we have to be very careful not to let this spill over into assumptions about an entire race of people or people who look a certain way.”
In its announcement, Elk Grove said it canceled its Lunar New Year event out of “an abundance of caution” despite the risk of the new coronavirus being low in Northern California. Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly referred to that statement when asked for a comment. Councilman Darren Suen said city staff’s decision was unfortunate, but understandable given that the event was to take place indoors.
“Public safety is always paramount,” Suen wrote in an email. “With health experts now predicting a pandemic, we should remember this is an annual event and we look forward to celebrating when we feel comfortable that the public isn’t at risk.
Since being first identified Wuhan, China on Dec. 31, the pneumonia-like illness has shown long, quick legs, sickening nearly 20,000 people in two dozen countries, including the United States.
As of Jan. 31, the California Department of Public Health had confirmed three cases of coronavirus—in Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Orange counties—but considers the immediate health risk to the general public relatively low. Meanwhile, the common flu is wreaking havoc across the state, with 149 influenza-coded deaths since this flu season began at the end of September.
“Flu remains the highest risk for respiratory illness in our community,” Yolo County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mary Ann Limbos said in a statement.
Elk Grove hasn’t rushed to cancel other indoor events, such as a weekly preschool storytime inside the city library.