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US expert notices Korea’s response to Covid-19 outbreak at call center
  • By Kim Yun-mi
  • Published 2020.05.06 15:48
  • Updated 2020.05.07 09:33
  • comments 0

A report by the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its response to the Covid-19 outbreak at a call center in Seoul is drawing attention after its U.S. counterpart published it in a journal.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has recently published the report in Emerging Infectious Disease, ahead of its formal publication in August.

This is the call center building in Guro-gu, Seoul, and the structural drawing of its 11th floor where cluster infections of Covid-19 occurred. Blue coloring indicates the seating places of persons with confirmed cases. (Credit: Emerging Infectious Diseases. Volume 26, Number 8-August 2020)

Immediately upon the release of the report, Kent Sepkowitz, a CNN medical analyst, a physician and infection control expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, introduced it on CNN.

Sepkowitz said the most complicated issue in the U.S. now is “how, when and where to reopen the cities and towns that have been sheltered in place,” in the opinion section of CNN. He said balancing resumption of individuals’ mobile lives against the need to assure both individual and societal safety was a “substantial challenge.”

Fortunately, a new study from South Korea has just been published in “early release” form (it is final and peer-reviewed, just early) in the CDC medical journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, he said.

Although the paper reported a one-building solution, the Korean government’s approach to identification and control of Covid-19 can provide a blueprint for policymakers in the U.S., Sepkowitz emphasized.

Titled “Coronavirus Disease Outbreak in Call Center, South Korea,” the report explained that extensive contract tracing, thorough screening, and early quarantine effectively block the spread of additional infections. It also said that it was possible to suppress a rapid spread of Covid-19 in a high-density workplace.

As soon as the KCDC noticed the confirmed case of an employee at the call center in southwestern Seoul on March 8, the agency and local governments (Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province) formed a joint response team and launched an epidemiologic investigation. They tested 1,143 people who worked at, lived at, or visited the building between Feb. 21 and March 8 for the Covid-19 virus.

The KCDC confirmed 97 cases, 8.5 percent of the total, and 94 of them were working on the 11th-floor, which had 216 employees. In other words, 43.5 percent of the workers on the floor were infected with Covid-19.

The report said that 16.2 percent of family members of symptomatic Covid-19 patients had a secondary infection. Only four out of 97 confirmed cases, 1.9 percent, remained asymptomatic for 14 days of quarantine and a secondary outbreak did not occur among their families.

Citing the Korean paper, Sepkowitz said the Korean health officials quarantined the building immediately after receiving the report of the first call center outbreak, and the response team reviewed the infections in the 19-story commercial-residential building right away.

“Investigators then constructed a detailed map of who was and was not infected, demonstrating that the overwhelming majority of cases had worked on one side of the 11th floor in extremely close proximity,” he said.

“The current notion of some American public officials of simply reopening our cities and towns surely is a pipe dream. But this report from South Korea shows us how we actually can handle the uncertain business of resuming a normal-ish life,” Sepkowitz went on to say.

To do so, policymakers will need decisiveness such as quickly shutting down an entire building if needed, widely available testing with fast results, and citizens willing to be quarantined as required for the public good, he added.


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