'Very challenging’: Chinatown businesses are losing customers due to coronavirus rumors, owners say

Fear and rumors are impacting local businesses in the Asian community in wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

HOUSTON – A rumor of a possible case of coronavirus that spread across social media has been keeping customers away from many businesses in Houston’s Chinatown, business owners say.

“It’s very challenging," said Debbie Chen. She is part-owner of the restaurant Shabu House on Bellaire Boulevard. She says the restaurant business is hard enough without fear of the virus causing panic.

"There’s been a dramatic shift since last month,” Chen said. She claims her customer base has been cut in half and it’s hurting her bottom line.

Fewer customers has also meant less tips for the restaurant’s wait staff.

“I want my employees to be able to pay their bills so I’m basically taking money out of my own pocket so they can make their average of $15 an hour,” Chen said.

On Thursday, business owners, community leaders and health officials joined State Representative Gene Wu to encourage the public to stop by businesses in Chinatown and to remind the community to watch out for misinformation. There have been no coronavirus cases in Houston, Harris County or the state of Texas so far.

“If you hear otherwise and somebody says there is, and it’s not coming from the city of Houston, the county health department or the federal government, it is a lie,” Wu said.

Chen hopes the message resonates with residents. She says her livelihood may depend on it.

“I would really ask you to consider stopping or put out the right information,” Chen said.

Wu and the community leaders in attendance announced the creation of a special task force to deal with and discourage the spread of coronavirus rumors and to help businesses in the community who need it.

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