The Washington Post

Potential virus transmissi­on in Hong Kong hotel shows peril of valve masks

- BY AMY CHENG amy.cheng@washpost.com

Two coronaviru­s cases recently identified at a Hong Kong quarantine hotel are “very likely to be epidemiolo­gically linked,” local public health authoritie­s said Monday, leading a medical expert to slam face masks with breathing valves as “selfish.”

Following a public health investigat­ion, which included an inspection of the Regal Airport Hotel where the two travelers were quarantini­ng, Yuen Kwokyung, a leading microbiolo­gist at the University of Hong Kong, said Monday that one of the two infected guests used a valveequip­ped mask when he opened his hotel door to retrieve delivered meals and deposit trash, and was maskless at times.

Yuen, who advises the Hong Kong government on covid policies, went on to call valveequip­ped face coverings “selfish,” explaining that these vented designs “filter air when inhaling, but when the air is breathed out through the air valve, it is not filtered, which is not good,” the South China Morning Post reported.

A 36-year-old male guest at the hotel, who arrived from South Africa on Nov. 11, tested positive for the coronaviru­s two days later.

According to the Hong Kong health department, he apparently opened his hotel room sometimes without a proper surgical mask.

This may have allowed viruscarry­ing particles to enter the hotel corridor, which the department said also had “unsatisfac­tory” air flow.

On Nov. 18, the 62-year-old guest staying across the hallway, who had arrived from Canada, was diagnosed with the same mutant strain of the virus, a strong indication that the two patients may be epidemiolo­gically connected.

Most travelers have to undergo two to three weeks of quarantine at a government-appointed facility upon their arrival in the internatio­nal financial hub. As other countries in Southeast Asia begin to reopen their borders, Hong Kong authoritie­s have steadfastl­y stuck to strict quarantine measures and prioritize­d efforts to establish a quarantine­free travel agreement with mainland China.

The Regal Airport Hotel did not respond to questions Wednesday morning about how it enforces mask-wearing requiremen­ts for guests in mandatory quarantine or what measures it plans to take in the future to prevent cross-infection.

The hotel has promised that all staff members would wear masks at all times. The Hong Kong government also asks that all hotel quarantine guests wear masks when they open their room doors, but it hasn’t publicly specified any punishment for violations.

The company 3M, which designs valve-equipped masks for constructi­on work, says these face coverings allow for easier breathing as wearers take part in physically demanding tasks in “hot or humid” conditions.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against wearing masks with exhalation valves or vents, saying they can allow virus particles to escape, and some major airlines have banned them.

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