Coronavirus Update: People Standing Farther Apart in Public Groups

Photo taken on March 19th, 2020. People creating space between each other. -Kari Jensen, photographer

Photo taken on March 19th, 2020. People creating space between each other.
-Kari Jensen, photographer

This story was sent to us from reporter Kari Jensen.

In the past week, some New Yorkers have begun to maintain larger personal space bubbles, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.  Some are standing as far as six feet apart from each other, as recommended by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  That is in contrast to March 13, where people stood about an average of an arm’s length apart from each other in checkout lines at Trader Joe’s, Target, and Fine Fare stores in the Lower East Side.

Photo taken on March 13, 2020. A crowded line. -Kenneth Teng, photographer

Photo taken on March 13, 2020. A crowded line.
-Kenneth Teng, photographer

On Thursday, Martilda Torres said she is making efforts to avoid crowded places. She shopped at Rite Aid on Grand Street because she expected that pharmacy would have few, if any, lines.  Torres said people may be standing farther apart since “they’re afraid (of coronavirus).”  They may want to avoid any contact with potentially contagious people, she said.

While some said they had noticed an increase in public social distancing, others said they had not.

Across the street Thursday, Raymond Wong was among customers who stood five- to six-feet apart in a long queue, waiting to enter Trader Joe’s.  He said some people might want an even larger space bubble.  “In this kind of line, if you think there’s not enough space, come back another time,” Wong said.

 

Coronavirus Outbreak: Coping With Closures and Long Lines on the Lower East Side

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The coronavirus outbreak has led to panic buying across New York, including here on the Lower East Side. You’ve seen the crazy lines and empty shelves at Trader Joe’s on Grand Street.  Meanwhile, most of the neighborhood’s tourist attractions and many other local institutions have temporarily shut their doors.

Among them: the New Museum, the Tenement Museum, the Manny Cantor Center and the Museum at Eldridge Street.  At the same time, many of the Lower East Side’s social service organizations, including University Settlement, Henry Street Settlement and Grand Street Settlement are keeping most of their programs open.  Taste of the Lower East Side, Grand Street Settlement’s annual fundraiser (scheduled to take place May 7), was cancelled yesterday.

The governor’s ban on public gatherings that include over 500 people was a big blow to Jing Fong, Chinatown’s largest restaurant which seats up to 800 people in its second floor banquet hall. The New York Post reported erroneously on Thursday night that Jing Fong would be closing for good. The restaurant’s owners clarified that the closure was only temporary, explaining via Twitter: “We are TEMPORARILY closed due to Governor Coumo requesting all large gatherings of 500 or more to be cancelled. We have 800 seats, therefore for everyone’s health and safety, we are closed until Coumo says it’s OK to gather and party again!!!” Other big Chinatown restaurants, including Golden Unicorn and Congee Village, have also closed until the crisis is over.


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Over at the Market Line, the subterranean food hall, vendors were planning to stay open through the weekend, although a notice on social media indicated that all special programming had been cancelled through the end of the month.  In difficult times, you can always count on legacy Lower East Side businesses to remain open in service to the community. On Instagram, Russ & Daughters said, “We hope you’re healthy and safe. We’re open and here to feed you at all of our locations…  just as our family has for four generations and 106 years.”  

Chinatown Businesses Continue to Suffer Due to Coronavirus Misconceptions

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According to the NYC Department of Health, there are now 76 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York State and 11 in New York City. Most of the cases are clustered in Westchester County, but unfortunately, Chinatown is paying a heavy price as misconceptions and outright xenophobia connected to the disease abound. Here’s a roundup of some of the Chinatown-relevant news coverage in the past week.

Owners of restaurants and retail stores in Chinatown told the New York Times say they have seen their business drop by 50-70% in the past 10 days. New Yorkers are staying away from the neighborhood, as well as tourists from China.

Steve Ip, a manager of Bayard Street restaurant Yin Ji Chang Fen said his business has been cut in half. Not even Lunar New Year celebrations drew the types of crowds local establishments have counted on in the past. Andy Wang of Taiwan Pork Chop House on Doyers Street also said business is down, especially at lunch time when, as the Times explained, “Wall Street types usually fill the tables.” As a result, the restaurant is buying fewer items at local markets.

The New York Post checked in with Claudia Leo, marketing manager at Jing Fong, Chinatown’s largest restaurant. She said events this month are down 75%. March is usually a critical month (there are typically dozens of Lunar New Year events at Jing Fong). Leo told Side Dish, “We can’t lay off anyone but we are reducing hours so people working six days a week might now be working three or four days a week.”

Bo Ky, one of Chinatown’s most popular restaurants, reports its daily customer count has dropped to 30 or 40 from an average of 120 before the coronavirus scare.

Bon Appetit spoke with Wilson Tang of Nom Wah Tea Parlor, who lamented that the the New York Times chaos to use a photo of the historic Chinatown restaurant in a coronavirus story even though there have been no cases of the epidemic in Chinatown. Tang explained:

That misinformation traveled quickly around Weibo and WeChat. My DMs and Facebook messages were filled with this nonsense. Everyone on the block was talking about it. We emailed, texted, tweeted at multiple people at the Times to take the photo down. It’s gone now, but if you search “Nom Wah” and “coronavirus,” that photo still comes up. That hurts my business.

New York-based author and chef Grace Young wrote a piece for Food & Wine that carried the headline, “Chinatown Needs Your Love More Than Ever Right Now.” On a recent visit, she was heartbroken to see a beloved restaurant, Hoy Wong, had been shuttered. Young recounted what a friend of the owner told her: “She said that over the past few weeks, coronavirus paranoia had decimated the restaurant’s business. The lease was coming up for renewal, and after considering their options the owners concluded that they had no choice but to close up for good.”

The article includes a comprehensive and “highly opinionated” guide to some of Chinatown’s best restaurants and shops.