• A single infected woman recently caused a coronavirus outbreak at a Starbucks when she bought coffee at the store and then drank it there without a mask.
  • 56 people were infected with COVID-19 during the course of the woman’s stay in the shop.
  • Despite multiple Starbucks employees having close contact with the woman, none of the workers tested positive for COVID-19 — and we’re sure you can all guess why.

It seems like some people want to become cautionary tales. We’re now more than seven months into the worst pandemic of this generation, and yet so many people across the United States and around the world continue to be careless. There are really just a few things people need to do in order to drastically reduce the risk of catching and spreading the novel coronavirus, and yet so many people fail to do take those simple precautions. At this point, there’s simply no excuse.

The most important thing you can do is wear a face mask anytime you’re outside your home. Since the novel coronavirus infects a host by entering the respiratory system, protecting your respiratory system obviously reduces your chances of catching COVID-19. Beyond that, infected people spread the virus by expelling microscopic droplets from their mouths when they cough, sneeze, sing, yell, or even just talk normally — and the virus can be spread by carriers even if they don’t exhibit any symptoms. If you have COVID-19 and you wear a mask, your odds of spreading it to others decrease dramatically.

Social distancing and good hygiene are very important as well, but face masks are the most important weapon we have in the fight against the novel coronavirus. And now, news of another coronavirus outbreak at a Starbucks is our latest reminder of what happens when you fail to take the necessary precautions.

There is absolutely no way to put the novel coronavirus pandemic behind us until we have widely available vaccines to prevent infection and effective medicines to treat infections. Even once coronavirus vaccines are approved, it will be years before enough of the global population is vaccinated to really be rid of the pandemic. The amount of time it takes to get things under control will be significantly longer than it has to be if people start letting their guard down, and now we have yet another cautionary tale that proves this important point.

An unnamed woman in her 30s visited a Starbucks in Paju City, South Korea earlier this month, according to the Korean-language news site Insight. She stayed there for more than two hours drinking her coffee and chatting with friends and she obviously wasn’t wearing a face mask while she was drinking her coffee. She sat on the second floor of the two-story Starbucks establishment, and there were six ceiling-mounted air conditioners in the store. The woman was infected with COVID-19 at the time of her visit. During the two-plus-hours she spent at the Starbucks, she spread the novel coronavirus to 56 other people who visited the store.

The reasons for the outbreak at this Starbucks are beyond obvious. The infected woman drank her coffee in the store without a face mask on and the air conditioning spread droplets and aerosols she exhaled all over the store. Anyone who took his or her mask off to drink coffee — or anyone who wasn’t wearing a mask at all — would have had a high risk of exposure regardless of how long they were inside. But there were four Starbucks employees who were in the store the entire time this woman was there, and several of them even had close contact with her. Not a single one of them caught COVID-19 from this super spreader. Can you guess why?

That’s right, they were wearing face masks. And because the Starbucks employees kept their face masks on at all times while inside the store, they were protected from the droplets and aerosols the infected woman exhaled.

There are two key takeaways here. The first is that you should not be spending time indoors around other people for any reason unless it is absolutely necessary. If you can’t survive without your Starbucks coffee, that’s fine. Order and pay with the app, put on a face mask, walk into the store, take your coffee, drop a tip in the cup to thank your local Starbucks baristas for working through a pandemic, and leave. And second, always wear a face mask anytime you’re around other people. Whether you’re inside or outside, and whether within 6 feet of other people or 16 feet of other people, wear a face mask. Always.

Zach Epstein has worked in and around ICT for more than 15 years, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business news, consumer electronics and telecommunications. Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news publications in the US and around the world. He was also recently named one of the world's top-10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes, as well as one of Inc. Magazine's top-30 Internet of Things experts.