Vietnamese in US nervous as novel coronavirus crosses states

By Viet Anh, Anh Ngoc   March 17, 2020 | 04:59 pm PT
Vietnamese in US nervous as novel coronavirus crosses states
Shelves where disinfectant wipes are usually displayed is nearly empty at a Target store on March 02, 2020 in Novato, California. Photo by AFP.
After President Donald Trump declared a national Covid -19 emergency, Vietnamese citizens living in the U.S. are laid low by worry and stress.

"U.S. President Donald Trump had earlier downplayed the Covid-19 epidemic but now declared a national emergency, considered a slow but necessary step," Lisa Hoang, 62, of San Diego County in California told VnExpress.

The fast-spreading epidemic has taken a heavy toll on the daily lives and business activities of local Vietnamese.  

Friday is always the busiest time of the week when her nail salon is flooded with customers. However, last week her staff had nothing to do as clients remained home in fear of the outbreak.

"Everyone’s flocking to the supermarkets to stock up on supplies and no one cares about beauty services," said Lisa.

Worried about her staff due to their close contact with customers, Lisa has commenced disinfecting all tools, requiring employees to wash their hands thoroughly after doing one set of nails.

"Up to now, staff  had to wear face masks to avoid dust and inhaling toxic chemicals," she said. "However, a customer seeing me wearing a mask wanted to know whether I was sick or not. Americans do not have the habit of wearing face masks."

The California government announced it would close schools from Monday, switching to online learning. All sporting events are canceled, with music programs of Vietnamese origin no exception.

"If the Covid-19 situation continues to worsen, I am willing to close the nail salon to stay at home, losing income but ensuring safety," Lisa commented.

Following the national emergency declaration, the number of people hoarding essential food and medical supplies peaked as Americans realized the severity of the disease.

Americans have raided grocery store shelves and depleted supplies of toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases grew to over 6,500, with death tolls climbing to 115.

Like many other Vietnamese citizens in the U.S., Lisa bought household necessities in early March, when Covid-19 began spreading across the states. However, she could only buy canned food, rice, bottled water, paper towels, with toilet paper "sold out."

People flock to Vons supermarket in San Diego, California on March 13 after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over Covid-19 epidemic. Photo courtesy of Lisa Hoang. 

People rush to Vons supermarket in San Diego, California on March 13, 2020 after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Lisa Hoang. 

The rush to stockpile also took place in Texas, said Anthony Sam, a Vietnamese student at Houston Community College.

"Now, Americans are scrambling to buy goods while Asians had been doing so for the past two weeks," he said.

He did not participate in the "trend", believing supermarkets in the U.S. are continually re-supplied. His top concern, rather, is the gathering of crowds that could lead to greater spreading of the novel coronavirus.

Before Covid-19 hit the states, many still frequented public spaces like cafes, restaurants, and supermarkets. Anthony once met the "discriminating eye" of an elderly person after sneezing, acknowledging the fear of contraction among this specific demographic.

In New York, Ngoc Linh, who lives in The Bronx, said when she heard President Trump had declared a national emergency, she was quite worried, especially when the number of infections in New York soared to 400 in a day.

A few days earlier, Linh still frequented cafes, and restaurants but avoided taking the bus and subway. She wears face masks regularly to feel more secure, though no one in the street wears them. Linh’s American friends still work extra shifts at restaurants to boost their income.

In Washington State, Nguyen Kim Thoa said she was not surprised by President Trump's decision and expressed confidence that his administration could handle the Covid-19 crisis.

President Donald Trump has suspended all travel from Europe to the U.S. for 30 days starting Friday, except for U.S. citizens and travelers from the U.K, in response to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus.

Although Covid-19 appeared across 49 states in the U.S., the food stall of Thoa's husband, who is an American, still operates normally. The number of customers has also remained stable, though online orders were canceled. At state level, the governor asked public events to be cancelled to limit crowds from gathering.

Thoa said her family strictly adheres to hygienic regulations and avoid stockpiling because of low demand. "I will limit going out, shopping only when necessary," she said.

Lisa expressed concern that many people cannot get timely treatment, because U.S. health officials only give free tests to those showing symptoms of having contracted the virus. Those who cannot afford health insurance may hide the disease and increase the risk of transmitting it to the community.

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