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Coronavirus Scare Rips Through LA’s Koreatown Amid False Social Media Rumors

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South Korean consulate debunks rumors that a Korean Airlines flight attendant infected with coronavirus visited Koreatown restaurants

Banchan at a Korean restaurant in Los Angeles.
Banchan at a Korean restaurant in Los Angeles
Matthew Kang
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

This week, a KBS America news broadcast reported that novel coronavirus scares jeopardized business at numerous Koreatown restaurants in Los Angeles. According to the report, a Korean Airlines flight attendant serviced a flight between Seoul and Los Angeles after showing symptoms of novel coronavirus (aka COVID-19) and was diagnosed by the Korean Center for Disease Control upon returning to South Korea. Meanwhile, an anonymous statement spread like wildfire across the Korean-American community from Instagram through South Korea-based messaging app KakaoTalk, alleging that the flight attendant visited five restaurants in LA’s Koreatown during her one-night stay. According to the KBS America report, the unsubstantiated and unaccredited rumor resulted in a significant drop off in business for these five Koreatown businesses.

The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Los Angeles issued a statement this morning confirming that the Korean Airlines flight attendant did not visit LA’s Koreatown, or any restaurants in Koreatown, during the period of February 19 to 20.

Meanwhile, the LA County Public Health Department stated in a conference call yesterday that there is no credible evidence that an infected person was able to transmit the virus in Los Angeles. In addition, the local health department has not shut down any restaurants due to coronavirus concerns.

KBS America reported that several of the restaurants, including popular beef bone soup destination Han Bat Suhllungtang, have experienced reduced sales of more than 50% because of the rumor. In addition, Hangari Kalguksu, a knife-cut noodle restaurant, made statements on its Instagram account contesting the rumor and showing proof that they had hired a professional cleaning company to thoroughly sanitize the restaurant.

Both Han Bat and Hangari closed for a few days last week and this week, unrelated to the novel coronavirus rumors. Han Bat says it was replacing a pipe, which required a scheduled closure, and it reopened on February 25. When reached for comment, Han Bat’s owner claims that sales have now “returned to normal.” Hangari showed proof on its Instagram account that it was performing some kitchen upgrades. Hangari reopened on February 28 with normal operating hours.

Korea Daily also reported on Hanshin Pocha, stating the bar had lost hundreds of customers as a result of the rumors. Owner John Park says he normally serves 300 customers a day, but has recently seen fewer than 100.

LA County Public Health Department said in a conference call that any standard cleaning disinfectants are adequate for restaurants to use in order to free themselves from hypothetical contagions, and that there is no need to hire a specialized cleaning company. In addition, the health department stated that it was extremely rare for someone to contract novel coronavirus through contact from a contaminated surface. The statement went on to say that contaminated surfaces with the virus only last several hours and there is “no need for customers to be scared about visiting a location because it was rumored to have an infected person.” Finally, the health department has reported no new cases of novel coronavirus in Los Angeles county since the singular case reported on January 26.

The KBS America report also said some of the restaurant owners inquired directly with Korean Airlines in an attempt to confirm or deny the rumor of the flight attendant visiting their restaurants. The owners say Korean Airlines did not provide any information beyond the fact that they have no directive from the company’s upper management regarding the matter.

Receive updated news on novel coronavirus from LA County Public Health Department’s Twitter.