The government and the medical community squabbled whether to minimize protective clothing of doctors for quicker testing of the new coronavirus amid the surge of suspected patients.
After receiving a letter from local governments recommending to wear a doctor’s gown rather than Level-D protective clothing, physicians strongly protested the idea, saying it would compromise their safety.
The health authorities have looked for ways to speed up doctors’ collection of samples from suspected patients at isolated examination rooms because putting on and taking off of Level-D clothing took too much time.
After consultation with expert groups, including the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases, the government decided to recommend examiners to wear an easy-to-wear doctor’s gown, which can also protect physicians.
According to the South Jeolla Province Medical Association, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) sent a notification on Tuesday to every city and province, recommending doctors to wear a gown instead of protective clothing when taking samples for COVID-19 testing.
So far, medical workers who collected samples have worn full protective clothing. With the rise of demands for the virus testing, however, the government recommended protective clothing only for quarantine, transfer of confirmed patients, disinfection of quarantined cars, and transfer of bodies. When collecting samples, physicians could wear a gown, instead of protective clothing, the notification said.
However, the South Jeolla Province Medical Association released a statement on Wednesday, saying, “If the government is willing to prevent the spread of the infectious disease and end the epidemic early, they should put the protection of healthcare workers as a top priority and make the best effort to secure individual protective gear sufficiently.”
If the medical community collapses, the entire nation will collapse, it added.
The medical association also blamed the government for failing to control the spread of the virus and making inadequate preparations.
“If the government had any concerns about the spread of the infectious agents, it could have stocked up and essential medical supplies such as protective clothing and face masks,” the group said.
The government seems to have mistaken thinking as if it had the authority to force physicians to be exposed to many suspected patients, it added.
The Korean Association of Public Health Doctors (KAPHD) also released a similar statement on Tuesday, raising concerns over the government’s plan. Many public health doctors are being sent to isolation examination rooms to collect samples from suspected patients.
“Due to the nature of the infectious disease spreading by the cough and sputum of the test subjects, doctors have to make personal decisions when to change their protective clothing because they are busy seeing patients who are waiting for the virus testing,” KAPHD said. “However, we cannot choose to wear protective clothing for incomprehensible reasons.”
In response to the growing opposition from the medical community, an official at the KCDC said, “We consulted with expert groups to allow doctors to wear long-sleeved hospital gowns for sample collection, but the message was somehow mistakenly delivered to local governments.”
What the health authorities meant was allowing doctors to wear gowns that were easier to put on, rather than Level-D clothing, which is more difficult to wear and take off, the official explained.
The KDCD official also said the term, “gown,” could be misleading. “The long-sleeved gowns meant disposable and waterproof gowns. What we recommended was to change the gown every time after a sample collection,” he said.
In addition to the disposable and waterproof gown, doctors should wear a face mask, gloves, and protective glasses so that they do not contract the COVID-19, he added. “We will make local governments check this one more time.”
KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong also said in a briefing that identifying the confirmed cases early was the most important thing to contain the local transmissions and curb the rise of deaths.
“For fast sample collection for testing, we are adjusting the level of individual protective gear and the places of sample collection,” she said.
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