Pandemic stigma cost Asian restaurants more than $7.4 billion – San Francisco Chronicle

Medical staff at Petaluma Health Center prepare to administer COVID-19 tests to patients waiting in their vehicles in early 2022. The CDC is looking at new guidance to deemphasize people who do not have symptoms for testing.
UPDATE: Here are the latest updates on COVID in the Bay Area and California.
New government approaches are emerging amid the evolution of the coronavirus and the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking at new virus testing guidance that focuses mainly on symptomatic people, not those without symptoms. An FDA advisory committee is taking up a proposal for a once-a-year COVID shot for most people, similar to the approach to flu shots. And the extra food assistance that’s helped low-income families since early in the pandemic will be ending next month after Congress cut the funding.
Latest updates:
Anti-Asian sentiment during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in substantial financial losses for both Chinese and non-Chinese Asian restaurants, according to a study by researchers from Boston College, the University of Michigan and Microsoft Research. Multiple data points show that consumer discrimination led to an 18.4% decrease in traffic compared to comparable non-Asian restaurants, resulting in an estimated $7.42 billion in lost revenue in 2020 alone. Negative attitudes were fed by the racist rhetoric of then-President Donald Trump, who regularly blamed the virus outbreak on China and referred to it as the “kung flu.”
“Areas with more Trump support saw a larger relative drop in Chinese restaurant traffic than those with lower Trump support, and that Trump voters were more likely to misidentify Asian restaurants compared with non-Trump voters,” according to the authors of the study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour on Thursday. Other kinds of Asian restaurants that were not Chinese suffered from the consumers not knowing them apart. 
“Although our results focus on consumer discrimination against Asian restaurants in the wake of the pandemic, these findings have relevance in a much broader context,” the authors wrote. “Restaurants are a bellwether for broader anti-minority-group sentiment and its impact on small businesses owing to their ubiquity and easy association with an ethnic group. Other small businesses, such as dental offices, lawyers, doctors, and accountants, are also easily affiliated with an ethnic group due to typical naming conventions, and our conclusions on how restaurant avoidance is not explained by consumer health safety concerns have substantial implications for consumer discrimination against these businesses as well.”
Officials from the World Health Organization cast doubt on plans by U.S. health officials to make COVID-19 vaccinations more like the annual flu shot. “For the time being, COVID hasn’t really come down to the usual seasonal seasonality that we see for other viruses,” Joachim Hombach, executive secretary of the WHO strategic advisory group of experts on immunization, told a  media briefing on Tuesday. “The virus is still fairly unstable so it is a bit of anticipation if we end up in a seasonal pattern as we have it for instance for influenza.” He said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to allow most adults and children to get a once-a-year shot to protect against the mutating virus might work at some point but warned “you basically have to find the sweet spot between waning immunity and the benefit and the effort of providing an additional vaccination.” That would vary for each individual.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a consolidated search tool that allows people to locate nearby no-cost COVID-19 testing sites. The Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) program helps people with or without health insurance find a community-based testing provider when they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or if they were exposed at
The head of the World Health Organization told a media briefing on Tuesday that he is “very concerned” about the rising number of global COVID-19 deaths, which have steadily increased since December. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said an estimated 170,000 people have died because of the virus over the past eight weeks. “That’s just reported deaths,” he said. “The actual number of deaths is much higher.” The U.N. health agency is scheduled to meet Friday to decide on the pandemic’s emergency status after three years. Ghebreyesus did not indicate if the committee would consider ending the status but said he remains “very concerned by the situation in many countries and the rising number of deaths.” He added, “While clearly, we’re in better shape than we were three years ago when the pandemic hit, the global collective response is once again under strain.”
Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they anticipate substantial changes in their COVID testing guidance to “de-emphasize the need for asymptomatic screening tests.” The new guidance, not yet cleared for release, will recommend testing only for people who are showing symptoms or recently had direct exposure to COVID-19, Natalie Thornburg, CDC respiratory virus immunology team lead, told a webinar hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America on Saturday.
“We’re moving towards a direction of saying testing is really important when someone is symptomatic, or when you’ve had a known exposure, and really deemphasizing the need for screening tests in many contexts — many, but not all contexts,” she said. Thornburg would not specify if the new policy would apply to public gatherings, new hospital admissions, or pre-procedure patients. But she did seem to imply that rapid tests have become less reliable with newer strains of the virus.
“We expect to have some updated guidance soon, but it’s not been cleared yet,” she said. “In summary, some of the changes that will be made are a greater emphasis on the utility of using diagnostics for symptomatic patients and asymptomatic persons who have a known exposure to COVID-19, and de-emphasize the need for asymptomatic screening tests, to describe the limitations of some kinds of diagnostic tests, and talk through a little bit more detail on how to interpret test results.”
The temporary boost to SNAP benefits put in place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, known as emergency allotments, will end nationwide in February, according to an update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The policy, which allotted at least an additional $95 each month to individuals who qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, unofficially known as food stamps, for low-income people, was cut by Congress as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act. SNAP benefit amounts return to normal for all SNAP households. The change also applies to CalFresh recipients in California.
For households that also receive Social Security, their SNAP benefit may decrease because of their newly higher Social Security benefit, according to the agency website, with the latter change due to the significant cost of living increase to Social Security benefits that took effect on Jan. 1. 
The Food and Drug Administration’s proposal on Monday to simplify future vaccination approaches, allowing most adults and children to get a once-a-year shot to protect against the mutating virus, was partially prompted by low uptake of the updated bivalent booster. While more than 80% of the U.S. population has had at least one vaccine dose, only 16% of those eligible have received the latest boosters authorized in August, the Associated Press reports. In documents posted online, FDA scientists say many Americans now have “sufficient preexisting immunity” against the coronavirus because of vaccination, infection or a combination of the two. That baseline of protection should be enough to move to an annual booster against the latest strains in circulation and make COVID-19 vaccinations more like the yearly flu shot, according to the agency. For adults with weakened immune systems and very small children, a two-dose combination may be needed for protection. FDA scientists and vaccine companies would study vaccination, infection rates and other data to decide who should receive a single shot versus a two-dose series.
The latest coronavirus offshoot, an omicron strain called CH.1.1., comprised nearly one-quarter of all cases in England last week, data show. The subvariant is likely to edge out the currently dominant BQ.1 in the United Kingdom, according to a report from the UK Health Security Agency. “Two variants, CH.1.1 and XBB.1.5, appear to have a growth advantage in the UK,” its weekly report said. Since CH.1.1 was discovered in the country in November it has spread to account for 23.1% of all cases in England and could make up as much as 100% of cases in some regions, it said. In a recent study posted to bioRxiv preprint server, Ohio State University researchers found that CH.1.1 showed “extraordinary evasion” to neutralization by the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine. But while CH.1.1 joins XBB.1.5 and CA.3.1 among the subvariants that are growing in proportion globally, infectious disease experts are not certain if the latest strain will drive another wave of cases and hospitalizations. The latest data from UKHSA showed a 26% drop in cases in the U.K. last week compared to the previous week.
Aidin Vaziri is a staff writer at The San Francisco Chronicle.


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