Hong Kong connection: Alumnus donates masks to Texas State for use against COVID-19
One good turn deserves another, as the proverb goes.
As the COVID-19 pandemic brought much of the U.S. to a standstill in late March, departments and colleges at Texas State University realized that moving classes to an online delivery format left a great deal of personal protective equipment (PPE) unused in various labs. Seeing an opportunity to put the materials to good use elsewhere, Texas State ultimately donated lab coats, face shields and thousands of gloves and face masks to area medical centers.
Half a world away, Brian Wong was watching, and liked what he saw. A 1987 graduate of Texas State with a B.B.A. in accounting, Wong made a point of checking in on his university’s newsroom daily from his office in Hong Kong. A die-hard Bobcat, when he launched his own company, he named it Southwest Tax and Financial Planning Ltd. so he could abbreviate it as “SWT”—a reference to Texas State’s previous incarnation as Southwest Texas State. That abbreviation is also emblazoned in maroon and gold on the company emblem. When Wong saw that Texas State had donated so much PPE to the community, he began to wonder if the university could use some for its own staff.
“I read the news about Texas State donating personal protective equipment to support community partners on March 27,” Wong said. “Because I found the washable masks on March 26 in a shop on the street behind my office, I wrote to [Assistant Vice President for University Advancement] Dan Perry on March 27 to see if that was something the Bobcat community may need.”
With the number of COVID-19 cases growing in Central Texas, providing masks to faculty and staff who were not able to work from home, and those students who were still living on campus, was increasingly attractive. Unlike disposable masks, which could only be used once, the washable breathing masks could be cleaned and used repeatedly. As Hong Kong had already put the worst of the pandemic behind it, washable masks were readily available.
“Hong Kong is a shopping paradise. You can find unbelievable items at unbelievable price around you unintentionally. In fact, I bought a Texas State sweatshirt on the same street once,” Wong said. “There are plenty of shops in Hong Kong specializing in excess export items and they are for sale at huge discounts. Right now, the shop I patronize often is selling FootJoy golf shirts at $7.50 apiece. The same item should cost at least $75 in the U.S.
“Because the shop on the street behind my office is small, I visited another shop two subway stations away from my office on April 4, hoping that they would have more stock,” he said. “I not only found more stock at that shop; I was also able to negotiate a better price as I bought in bulk.”
In all, Wong has purchased and shipped 2,500 washable masks to Texas State from Hong Kong. That’s enough masks for 1,250 employees to be issued two—one to wear and a second to keep as a backup when the first needs to be cleaned. He also wanted to share what he’d learned by riding out the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong.
“Most importantly, stay calm. Avoid the crowd, wash your hands and wear a mask in public,” Wong said. “Probably because of the high percentage of people wearing masks in Hong Kong, most of the new cases in Hong Kong are imported cases or from unnecessary gatherings, which can be avoided.
“This is not time for traditions, it is time to be disciplined,” he said. “Small sacrifice could be a big help. I don’t think I can advise more.”