False coronavirus rumors take a big toll on Kent businesses

KENT, Wash. — Fallout at local businesses continues, spurred on by false rumors and fears over the coronavirus.

The property manager at Great Wall Shopping Mall in Kent says all her tenants are suffering, and that untrue social media rumors are taking a big toll on shops.

“Makes me really angry, and makes me feel like -- why are people doing this?” said Heidi Kieu, owner of Lotus Hair Salon.

“Everybody around us, even our shop too. They hurt (us) really bad."

False rumors say coronavirus, or COVID-19, was traced to 99 Ranch Market, an Asian grocery store, and that the case was not reported; Posts urge shoppers to “try to not go.”

“Why do you write all this kind of stuff? Kieu said.

The hair salon has been in the Kent plaza for 18 years, in the same building as 99 Ranch Market.

The owner said many of the rumors have been circulating in Vietnamese groups on social media.

“They post to every single Vietnamese Facebook or community,” Kieu said. “These are liars,” she said.

Public Health Seattle & King County confirmed Friday that there are no coronavirus cases in King County and no investigation into 99 Ranch Market, saying that shoppers have no reason to worry in going there.

Health officials even held a press conference last week about this problem of stigma.

“We do hear widespread reports of those who look like they’re Chinese or Asian experiencing stigma,” said Teresita Batoyola, CEO of International Community Health Services.

“We need to be forceful in saying no discrimination of any kind will be tolerated,” said Patty Hayes, director of Public Health Seattle & King County.

99 Ranch Market put up signs this week to fight back, saying the posts are not true and that they may “take legal action against any false or misleading viral rumors.” The shop added that none of their employees have traveled to China in the last 14 days, nor do any of them have the coronavirus.

One 99 Ranch Market customer said she heard the rumor too, but didn’t believe it and came to shop Friday.

“It is sad; it does really affect all the Asian stores,” said Mercy Samson, the customer.

The shop owner of Lotus Hair Salon hopes those behind the rumors will be held accountable.

“They have to pay for what they do,” Kieu said.

Health officials and local leaders urge anyone to report discrimination they experience; There are a few different options, all shared on the public health website:

Washington State Human Rights Commission
Under the law, everyone has the right to be free from discrimination at work, in housing, in a public accommodation, or when seeking credit and insurance. Any
individual who believes that he or she has been discriminated against based on protected class status may file a charge of discrimination for employers, housing
providers, and businesses.

King County Office of Civil Rights
Our office has authority to handle discrimination complaints only for King County government and for employers, housing providers, and businesses in the
unincorporated parts of King County (outside the cities).

Seattle Office for Civil Rights
This office upholds laws that protect you against discriminatory harassment in housing, employment, or public places within Seattle city limits.