UPDATE : Friday, June 5, 2020
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Closures of emergency rooms could hit critical patients hard
  • By Kim Yun-mi
  • Published 2020.02.20 14:25
  • Updated 2020.02.20 15:25
  • comments 0

With the number of people confirmed with the infection of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) shooting up, medical institutions rushed to shut down their emergency rooms (ER), where the confirmed patients had visited to prevent a further spread.

However, experts raised concerns that the closures of emergency rooms could leave critically ill patients unattended.

Korea University Anam Hospital, where the 29th confirmed patient was found to have visited, reopened the ER on Wednesday morning. The hospital resumed the operation of the ER four days after the shutdown on Saturday.

Korea University Anam Hospital resumed the operation of its emergency room on Wednesday morning, after closing the facility on Saturday over the news that the 19th confirmed patient had visited there.

“Immediately after we opened the ER, urgent patients rushed in,” said Park Jong-hoon, president of Korea University Anam Hospital. “The patients included a person from North Gyeongsang Province.”

Hanyang University Medical Center, where the 40th confirmed patient had visited, closed not only the pulmonary department but the ER on Wednesday. The hospital said even though the patient received the coronavirus test at an isolated examination room, it closed the ER as a preemptive measure.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) has dispatched a response team to Hanyang University Medical Center to identify the moving routes of the patient and people who contacted the patient. The hospital will schedule for the ER reopening only after KCDC completes the epidemiological investigation, it said.

On Wednesday alone, the Daegu-North Gyeongsang Province region reported 18 new cases of the COVID-19. Among them, 16 cases are believed to have been infected attending religious services at a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, with the 31st confirmed patient.

All four university hospitals in Daegu shut down ERs. They are Kyungpook National University Medical Center, Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital, Yeungnam University Medical Center, and Daegu Catholic University Hospital. Critically ill patients in Daegu should go to Kyungpook National University Medical Center or Daegu Fatima Hospital to use the ER.

“For now, they can visit the ER at Kyungpook Medical Center or Fatima Hospital. If the ERs are full, the patients will be moved to a general hospital in the city center of Daegu or the ER at other hospitals,” the Daegu Metropolitan Government said.

A series of ER closures raised concerns that healthcare workers could be too occupied to control COVID-19 with a low fatality rate and fail to tend to critically ill patients, observers said.

KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said that COVID-19 has a lower fatality rate but spreads more easily, compared to the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus, at a recent briefing.

According to the analysis of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) on data of 72,314 patients with the COVID-19 infection, 80.9 percent of the confirmed patients had mild symptoms. About 14 percent were severe patients with pneumonia and difficulty breathing, and 5 percent experienced fatal disorders such as respiratory failure, septic shock, and multicenter failure. A total of 1,023 deaths meant that the fatality rate was 2.3 percent. However, the figure shot up to 14.8 percent in elderly patients over 80 years old.

The analysis shows that most healthy people do not experience severe symptoms or face death even if they catch the new coronavirus. If tertiary hospitals close ERs where critically ill patients should visit, patients at a higher risk of death could fail to get timely and proper treatment.

Jeong admitted that tertiary hospitals’ closures of ERs had such a blind spot.

“For the time being, it is most important for general hospitals to respond as quickly as possible to prevent the spread of the disease and bring ER back to normal,” she said.

She advised people with mild symptoms not to visit a general hospital or an ER immediately but go to the isolated examination center nearby. Hospitals need to sort patients out first to see if the ER can handle the patient or not, she added.

“For this, the government will devise up detailed measures on how ER medical staff should categorize patients,” Jeong said.


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