Coronavirus Panic Is Causing an Outbreak of Xenophobia in L.A. and Around the World

Reminder: racism is not an acceptable reaction to a health epidemic

Only six cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in California, but it seems that an untold number of people have been infected with hysteria since the disease was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, even liberal L.A. is not immune to the rapid spread of fear and intolerance associated with the disease—which has infected at least 17,348 as of Monday and killed 362.

Monterey Park resident Rosen Hyunh says she gets dirty looks every time she coughs.

“I don’t know if it’s just people looking at me coughing or because I’m an Asian person coughing, they think I might have the coronavirus,” said Hyunh, 22. “I feel like every time I cough, people are going to be uncomfortable with that. I shouldn’t have to feel that way.”

Andrew Nguyen, 22, describes an incident with a customer he was helping at clothing store Aape in West Hollywood. Nguyen says he was ringing up the man’s purchase when his fingers brushed the garment he was buying.

“Can you get me another one?” the man said. When Nguyen asked why, the customer gave him the stink eye and responded, “Because you touched it.”

This happened when videos of Chinese people eating exotic meats (the bug has been tentatively linked to “wet” markets that sell meat, fish, and wild animals in Wuhan) started going viral.  “I felt like maybe he had seen one of those,” Nguyen said.

In San Clarita, officials had to quell a false social media rumor that the virus had struck there. Last Thursday morning, the William S. Hart Union High School District emailed parents, “You may have heard on social media that the Coronavirus was found in the Santa Clarita Valley. Those are just rumors, there are no confirmed Coronavirus cases in Santa Clarita.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is investigating who started the rumor.

Meanwhile, bastion of tolerance UC Berkeley took heat for posting to Instagram that “Common Reactions” to coronavirus included “Xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilty about these feelings.”

The racism has spread worldwide, too. A sign in front of a restaurant in Hoi An, Vietnam, reads “No Chinese We Sorry,” and a French newspaper recently ran a headline calling the virus “the Yellow Peril,” just for starters.

Still, even some Chinese-American Angelenos are reacting to the virus reports with an abundance of caution. Over the weekend, Alhambra canceled its February 1 Lunar New Year celebration when vendors worried that not enough people would show up.

RELATED: L.A. County Will Continue to Fund Free STD Testing at the LGBT Center—for Now

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