By Andria Borba

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Health officials in Alameda County are trying to assuage fears over the novel coronavirus outbreak by holding a workshop Tuesday evening to prevent panic.

Shooting Star cafe is empty at lunchtime, likely due to fears over the coronavirus outbreak (CBS)

The meeting is being held by the Alameda County Public Health Department as well as local business owners in Oakland’s Chinatown to highlight how overinflated worries over the novel virus have left sidewalks empty and restaurants unfilled in the area.

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The meeting will cover the best practices to prevent the spread of the flu and dispel fears about the coronavirus.

During lunchtime Tuesday at the typically packed Shooting Star Cafe on Webster Street, it was rather empty. The owners say it’s been like that every day recently.

“I would say between 50 and 75 percent of our business,” said co-owner Sunny Wong. “Besides the locals not coming in, a lot of people are trying to avoid Chinatown in general and avoid Asians, I would say.”

There are no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Oakland or San Francisco as of Tuesday and there are only seven total cases in the entire state of California.

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Carl Chan, president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, says something far more insidious than the disease itself is spreading.

“Misinformation and misunderstanding, especially now that people are writing online,” Chan warned.

He says rumors are moving particularly fast on the Chinese social app WeChat. “I think, most importantly, we want people to understand the true facts about the coronavirus. Also, don’t be afraid when you see Asians on the street or in the restaurants or anywhere you are.”

Chan says Shooting Star Cafe is not alone in terms of being left behind by customers–business owners are reporting sales drops of two-thirds and more.

Wong says the viability of businesses in Chinatown depends on customers coming back.

“I want people to know that it’s not as dangerous as it seems. It looks scary online. Everyone’s talking about how it can become the next plague or something like that,” Wong said.

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Chinatown business leaders are calling on Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf to conduct a walking tour of the neighborhood to prove that everything is safe to everyone who lives there and everyone who thinks about coming there but is afraid to do so because of misconceptions about the coronavirus.