The bright colors, traditional music and swirling dancers at this year’s Chinese New Year celebration at the Mall of America in Bloomington were as exuberant and joyful as usual Saturday. But amid the festivities, there was also worry about the growing medical emergency in China, where a coronavirus outbreak has infected nearly 12,000 people and killed at least 259.
“Oh my God, every day — of course, of course I’m worried,” said a woman who said she moved here from China 20 years ago.
Although one observer thought the crowd for the Year of the Rat celebration looked slightly smaller than last year’s turnout, and at least one person wore a face mask, news of the virus did not appear to have kept people away from the event. Hundreds gathered or paused in the mall’s rotunda to watch performers of all ages — singers, musicians and dance troupes, most in vivid traditional attire — take the stage.
“In Minnesota, we don’t scare, we just come out,” said Louis Lau, a mall employee who spoke briefly to the audience. “I think Minnesota people are always strong.”
But with 55 million people in China’s Hubei Province under an unprecedented lockdown and the virus now spreading to more than 20 other countries, some people’s thoughts were on family members in China and neighboring countries.
“Yeah, we’re worried,” said Henry Yoon, an associate professor of biopsychology at Augsburg University in Minneapolis who has relatives in South Korea. “I’ve been talking about it with a lot of people. ... We’re all trying to put a bright face on it, but we all know there’s this looming ominous threat moving around us.”
The Chinese New Year is traditionally a time to travel, as tens of millions of people working in Chinese cities make visits to their home villages, forming the largest human migration on Earth. So the rapid expansion of the dreaded virus “is almost catastrophic to a lot of families in China,” Yoon said.
A University of Minnesota student who hopes to find a job in China after he receives his master’s degree this year said he’s concerned that the Chinese government may be understating the size of the outbreak. The student, who asked that his name not be used, also has heard that not all of the masks that Chinese people wear when they leave home are of hospital-grade quality.
Feng Wang of Medina said her friends returning here after traveling in China have been staying home for 14 days, the virus’ incubation period. Her relatives in China are wearing masks, avoiding crowds and taking other precautions. “We’re being cautious,” she said.
Still, many people with Chinese connections have remained relatively calm. Tian Li, a University of Minnesota architecture student, said he talks to his family in China almost every day via WeChat, a Chinese phone app that allows videotelephone communication.
His family lives far from the epicenter of the outbreak. They’ve been staying home more than usual, he said, partly because of the virus, but also because it’s winter and cold outside.
“I’m not really scared,” Li said. He called up a meme on his phone with a picture of a masked Chinese man and a caption he translated as, “Come out, let’s get some fun.”
With that, Li left to prepare a short introduction to a dance troupe he would be presenting onstage, in Chinese, later that afternoon.
The Chinese New Year celebration continues at the mall Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
Katy Read • 612-673-4583