An outbreak of the novel coronavirus at a Starbucks cafe in Paju, South Korea, infected dozens of customers — but at least four of the location’s employees were spared, with health officials crediting face masks as the reason.
At least 55 virus cases have occurred as a result, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
But four of the cafe’s employees — all of whom wore face masks during their shift — were spared. Officials said the patrons were likely more susceptible because they removed their masks to eat and drink, Gang Young-do, a spokesperson for the Paju government, told Bloomberg.
“The virus may spread where people can’t wear masks while eating or drinking tea, as witnessed at the Starbucks in Paju,” Jung Eun-kyeong, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, said, according to the Yonhap News Agency. “Even if infections did not occur via aerosol transmission, droplet transmission is also possible in a confined space, and the virus could have spread via hand contact.”
Toward the start of the pandemic, South Korea was touted as a success story in controlling the virus, with some pointing to the country’s robust testing and contract tracing efforts as a model for other countries grappling to take control over widespread COVID-19 infections.
But South Korea has since experienced a surge in virus cases, specifically in Seoul, the country’s capital, where officials for the first time on Monday mandated masks to be worn indoors and outdoors, Reuters reported.
The rise of cases in Seoul has since led to the closure of all schools and kindergartens in the city, the BBC reported.
On Sunday, the country reported its biggest increase in coronavirus cases since early March, with 17,399 cases and 309 COVID-19 deaths, South Korean authorities said.