Target Health Blog

COVID-19: San Francisco's Chinatown Relies on Historical Experience

April 20, 2020

History of Medicine


Chinatown Buddhist Temple, hanging lanterns ? in San Francisco, California.
By Ronnie Macdonald from Chelmsford, United Kingdom - Chinatown 23 Buddhist Temple, CC BY 2.0,
Dragon Gate to Chinatown in San Francisco
By © Alice Wiegand / CC-BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons), CC BY-SA 4.0,
San Francisco - Chinatown & California Street Cable Car
By David Ohmer from Cincinnati, USA - San Francisco - Chinatown & California Street Cable Car, CC BY 2.0,
Nam Kue Chinese School - San Francisco, California, USA.
By Daderot - Own work, CC0,

San Francisco Chinese Hospital is a hospital in San Francisco, California and the only Chinese hospital in the United States. The hospital is located in San Francisco's Chinatown. Chinese Hospital traces its origins to 1899, when the Oriental Dispensary, with ties to the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in Hong Kong, was founded over the protests of property owners on Sacramento Street. When the 1906 earthquake destroyed the dispensary, Chinese community groups raised money to rebuild the hospital. Today, it remains the only hospital in the United States built by and for the Chinese community. Bruce Lee, the actor and martial arts master, and Norman Yee, the president of the San Francisco board of supervisors, were born there.

Chinese Hospital now primarily serves the elderly, poor and immigrants from China in the San Francisco area and provides an alternative to San Francisco General Hospital for patients with a language barrier. The hospital also operates the Chinese Community Health Plan. The hospital's staff provides services spoken in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Taishanese and other languages.

According to the NY Times, on January 24, 2020, the eve of the Chinese New Year, Dr. Jian Zhang, the chief executive of San Francisco's Chinese Hospital, saw an alarming photograph an old medical school colleague was about to join more than 100 other health care providers being rushed to Wuhan to help manage the coronavirus outbreak. Dr. Zhang immediately recognized the threat as she knew that those who were visiting family in China during the Lunar New Year would soon be returning home, thus creating a perfect storm headed for San Francisco's famed Chinatown, one of the most densely populated areas in the United States. But it appears that Chinatown has to date has held off the contagion.

More than 15 years earlier, many in the community had family members who experienced the outbreak of SARS in China. Thus in early February, the principal of Central Chinese High School announced an initiative to sterilize classrooms and encouraged teachers and students recently in China to stay home for a 14-day self-quarantine. By mid-February, the Chinatown Community Development Center, had installed hand sanitizers in their buildings, extended daily cleanings and started educating tenants about defensive actions to be taken. As a result, if you visited Chinatown you would notice that on the north side of Broadway, everything was “normal,“ and nobody was wearing masks, but if you would cross Broadway into Chinatown, everybody was wearing masks.

As of last week, only one COVID-19 patient remains at Chinese Hospital. Two others have been discharged. Chinatown in San Francisco is an example for the rest of the country, of how to deal with viruses as lethal as the pandemic we are all trying to overcome. What is needed is quick reactive intelligence, cooperation, quarantine and lots of PPE; followed, of course, by all states multiple testing units.

Source: California Today, The New York Times; University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, written by Alyson Stamos and Meiying

Dragon Street Lamp on Grant Ave in San Francisco, California
By Tehani Schroeder from Hamburg, Germany - San Francisco (31) - Chinatown, CC BY 2.0,

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