A coronavirus outbreak at a Starbucks in South Korea infected more than two dozen customers but left four mask-wearing employees unscathed, Bloomberg News reported.
The findings marked yet another data point suggesting that face coverings can play a critical role in reducing the spread of the virus, particularly in confined indoor settings.
South Korean media outlets have reported that the woman at the center of the cluster sat under an air conditioning unit at the Starbucks store for roughly 2 ½ hours, which may have led to the dispersal of infectious aerosols or droplets around the cafe. South Korea’s robust contact-tracing program subsequently discovered that 27 people who tested positive for the coronavirus had visited the same Starbucks, located in the city of Paju, during that time period.
Those exposed to the virus at the coffee shop went on to infect about three dozen more people, according to Bloomberg. Officials assume that most customers seated in the cafe were eating and drinking and had removed their masks for at least some time during their stay. The four employees in the store, none of whom became infected, appear to have consistently worn masks.
“This speaks volumes about the role masks can play,” Ma Sang Hyuk, a pediatric infectious-diseases physician at Changwon Fatima Hospital, told Bloomberg. “Masks may not provide 100 percent protection, but there’s nothing out there that’s as effective.”
South Korea has witnessed a resurgence of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, with triple-digit daily increases reported for the past 12 days. In Seoul, the center of the outbreak, authorities announced Monday that masks would be mandatory in both indoor and outdoor public spaces. South Korean officials had previously steered clear of wide-ranging mask mandates, choosing instead to require face coverings in public transport and taxis only, according to Reuters.