|Medical workers at the Seoul National University Hospital must wear Level-D protective clothing to treat patients with the new coronavirus infection at the isolated Ward 39. (Credit: SNUH)|
“At first, I was afraid because it was an unknown infectious disease. But as I took care of patients and gradually learned clinical developments of the disease, my fear started to go away.”
So said Yoon Si-mong, a third-year resident and the attending doctor of COVID-19 patients at the Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH). Yoon worried that excessive panic over the disease could hurt the entire healthcare system.
He is treating seven COVID-19 patients at Ward 39, the isolated ward to prevent the infectious disease at the SNUH. The hospital placed only four doctors, including a resident, a fellow, and a specialist, in the ward, to minimize the contact between physicians and COVID-19 patients.
Korea Biomedical Review met Yoon in the late evening of Feb. 26 after his work. “Broadcasters are updating the numbers of new confirmed cases and deaths every day. If people are exposed to daily news reports of an increasing number of patients and deaths, they have no other way but to get anxious,” Yoon said, criticizing the fear-mongering media reports.
Yoon also felt burdened to see the virus-infected patients with Level-D protective clothing on. As time passed, however, he got used to it. His fear began to decrease as he learned more about clinical information of COVID-19. He said he could not keep being frightened and tense because he had to treat the patients.
“I used to treat patients in a nervous state all the time. But after treating them for four weeks, I didn’t feel burdened to fight the ‘unknown disease,’” Yoon said. “People might be scared of COVID-19, but once you know the disease, you can get rid of a vague feeling of fear.”
Doctors don’t have much to do to COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms, he said. A series of reports showed that healthy people with COVID-19 infection get better without any special treatment, he added.
Yoon said it was unlikely that COVID-19 infection could cause young, healthy people without underlying disease to suffer severe symptoms. “The problem lies in elderly patients with underlying disease. We should be able to focus on severe patients,” he emphasized.
‘Media reports too focused on number of cases, deaths’
The excessive fear of the new coronavirus resulted from a lack of information, Yoon went on to say. If people rush to isolated examination rooms at medical institutions to get tested for the virus, just out of fear, they could be exposed to the risk of the infection, he warned. Such irrational acts could weigh on physicians working at isolated examination facilities and undermine treatment for existing inpatients, he said.
Media reports are lopsidedly covering the number of confirmed cases and deaths, which is why the public finds it hard to listen to the government’s advice not to be afraid, he said.
Both the media and the government would do better to share the latest information of COVID-19 and explain thoroughly about the characteristics of the disease to assure the public, he added.
“If aged patients with underlying disease contract the virus, they should be hospitalized to get treatment. But those with mild symptoms are better to stay at home, wait and see the symptoms,” Yoon said, quoting SNUH infectious disease specialist Oh Myeong-don as saying. “Even if they have mild symptoms, they should not do normal activities because it could be risky. Instead, they should get rest at home and watch if the symptoms get worse.”
These guidelines should be widely educated to the public, he added.
At first, the medical community did not know much about COVID-19. However, now, physicians and researchers are sharing clinical information, he noted.
“We have to share the knowledge and set up policies in line with the latest knowledge,” Yoon said. The government should distribute COVID-19 clinical data to educate doctors so that they can respond appropriately in the clinical setting, he added.
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