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Mass infection at ‘public security hospital’ amplifies public concerns
  • By Choi Gwang-seok
  • Published 2020.03.07 15:28
  • Updated 2020.03.07 15:28
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Bundang Jesaeng Hospital, one of the institutions designated by the government as a “public security hospital,” saw a mass infection among its medical workers on Thursday.

Bundang Jesaeng Hospital in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.

A public security hospital is an institution that separates the treatment process of respiratory patients to prevent COVID-19 spread with the facility.

The herd infection at the hospital in Seongnam, just south of Seoul, has caused shock and worries among the people, with some experts pointing out that the criteria for classifying patients at screening clinics should be improved to prevent its recurrence.

According to officials at Seongnam city and the hospital, nine medical workers – two nurses, three nurse assistants, three patients, and one guardian – have tested positive for COVID-19, as of 5 p.m. Friday. The hospital closed down its emergency room and stopped accepting outpatient.

Experts are paying attention to how the group infection occurred at the hospital, a public security institution.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare designates a public security hospital among medical institutions that meet various conditions such as patient classification, separate area to treat respiratory outpatients, target inquiry, infection control, restriction of visit, medical staff protection, and operation of selective care centers, and operation of sick wards and intensive care units.

Through such rigorous criteria, patients with symptoms such as fever, cough, sputum, and sore throat can be separately treated at safe or selective care centers outside of the hospital so that the general public and other respiratory patients can be treated more safely without having concerns about the COVID-19.

According to the hospital, the first confirmed a COVID-19 patient, who is presumed to have spread the virus among the hospital staff, did not have symptoms such as fever or sore throat when she first arrived at the emergency room.

The problem is that as the patient had cancer and showed no history of respiratory symptoms or fever, the screening clinic did not classify the patient as a suspected COVID-19 patient.

This suggests that the infection may have occurred in the public security hospital, which separates respiratory and non-respiratory patients.

“The first confirmed patient did not complain of symptoms of respiratory disease at the time of admission, and only tested positive after the hospital medical staff quarantined the patient in the negative pressure room after showing signs of fever,” Bundang Jesaeng Hospital President Lee Young-sang said. “There was no way to deal with them unless the medical staff conducts a corona test after isolating every single inpatient.”

Park Sang-jong, medical director at the hospital, also said, “To operate a public security hospital, the respiratory patients' movements should be separated, and no non-respiratory patients should be admitted to the same ward as those respiratory patients. However, the COVID-19 confirmed patient came to the hospital after suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy.”

Such cases are classified as cancer patients or blood cancer patients, and when they come to the hospital without showing any respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or a history of fever, the current screening clinics do not classify the patients as potential COVID-19 patients, Park added.

Park stressed that improvements should be made in screening patients to avoid similar cases.

“Since the current disease pattern is changing and is affecting people who do not have respiratory symptoms or who have weak immunity, it is necessary to change the coping strategies and screening methods for patients,” Park said. “A possible suggestion would be letting a specifically designated hospital cater to all patients with respiratory symptoms or fever, while other general hospitals treat only those who do not have respiratory symptoms.”

The health authorities said they also would closely analyze the causes of group infection at Bundang Jesaeng Hospital.

“In the case of Bundang Jesaeng Hospital, it is necessary to determine the path of infection and the trend of the patient outbreak,” said Jung Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a briefing on Friday. “As the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarter (CDSCHQ) is in charge of the designation or removal of a public security hospital, any changes will be announced by the headquarters after a thorough investigation.”

Jung went on to say, “It is hard to say whether the public security hospital itself has a problem of not as we do not know how the hospital separated the movement of patients or how the patient developed her symptoms. Of course, we know that the public may be anxious as the nation saw its first confirmed patient at a public relief hospital.”

Therefore, the agency plans to conduct its investigation swiftly on how the patient got the virus, and if the hospital had indeed properly separated the movement between respiratory and non-respiratory patients, Jung added.


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