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Richmond festival canceled over coronavirus fear: ‘The risk is too great’

RICHMOND, Va. -- The annual Chinese New Year celebration scheduled at the University of Richmond has been canceled among fears of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-CoV), according to festival organizers.

Monday, the Organization of Chinese Americans in Central Virginia announced their decision to cancel the 2020 Richmond Chinese New Year Festival at U of R's Modlin Center. The event was scheduled for Saturday.

"The board had engaged in lengthy and detailed discussions on the possible risks of the event. We feel even if one person gets exposed the risk is too great," an organizer said in an email.

Sunday, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) said they were investigating three patients who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. The tests for two Richmond-area patients came back negative, VDH announced on Monday.

Chinese New Year Festival

“Test results for a Patient Under Investigation in the Northern Region of Virginia are expected to be received later this week. At this time, Virginia continues to have no confirmed cases of Novel Coronavirus 2019-nCoV," a VDH spokesperson said.

The virus can cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illness, like the common cold, VDH officials said. The health agency urged Virginians to take steps to avoid respiratory illnesses, like getting a flu shot, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, staying home when sick and taking prescribed flu antivirals.

"Public health officials are still learning about 2019-CoV and how it affects people," VDH officials said. "Some people who have become ill with 2019-CoV have had mild symptoms. Others have had more severe illness, including some deaths."

Dr. Lilian Peake, a state epidemiologist at VDH, said the patients had recently traveled to Wuhan, China where the cases have originated.

"The immediate risk to the general American public is very low," Peake explained. "The virus right now is not circulating in the United States. So, if someone has traveled to Wuhan, China or has been in contact with a confirmed case and they develop respiratory symptoms they should reach out to their health care providers."

Dr. Gonzalo Bearman leads the VCU Health Division of Infectious Diseases and the state's only unique pathogens unity, a self-contained unit to treat patients tested positive for serious infections.

"At VCU Health we are very fortunate where we have a longstanding emergency response program and team," Bearman stated. "It’s a unit that trained or drilled to respond to the emergence of unique and unusual organisms or pathogens such as Ebola or novel coronaviruses."

Additionally, health officials warned people traveling to China to avoid contact with sick people, animals, animal markets and animal products like uncooked meat.

The Organization of Chinese Americans in Central Virginia stated they purchased a large number of sanitary items like hand sanitizers for the Richmond event. They had asked anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms to stay home.

"But, many people in the Chinese community still feel it is not enough," an organizer said. "As a result, the board has made a decision to cancel the event so people would not be exposed to any potential virus as a result of our event."

The decade-old festival had been canceled once several years ago for inclement weather. It's unclear whether the group plans to re-schedule the festival.

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