Isolated Covid-19 testing facilities in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province were extremely crowded with people over the weekend, as the nation suffered an unexpected spike in confirmed cases that are linked to some clubs in Itaewon.
After Seoul City and Gyeonggi Province prompted visitors of six clubs in Itaewon and a particular sauna facility, called “Black Sleep Room,” in southern Seoul, to get tested for Covid-19 through emergency text messages, the number of visitors to isolated testing facilities shot up.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 confirmed cases were linked to nightclubs in Itaewon as of Monday. Out of the 79, 49 were from Seoul, and 18, from Gyeonggi Province.
Visitors of testing facilities include not only those who visited the particular entertainment facilities in Itaewon but young people who went to restaurants and coffee shops near them, officials at testing facilities said.
One university hospital in Seoul said its isolated testing room had eight visitors, who requested Covid-19 testing, saying they visited one of the six clubs in Itaewon during the latest holiday.
Another one in a regional university hospital had to receive more than 70 people for four hours, and a doctor there said he did not even have time to go to the restroom.
“Until last week, we used to test two people in one hour. But on Sunday, we tested over 70 people in four hours,” said the doctor who wished to be unnamed. “A nurse left shoelaces untied and just worked because there was no time to tie them.”
However, it was fortunate that many young people who had visited Itaewon came to the testing facility, he added.
One university hospital’s isolated testing facility in Gyeonggi Province saw the number of visitors jump by 10 times on Sunday afternoon, after some declines earlier.
“For a while, the number was gradually declining. But after confirmed cases surged from Itaewon, our testing facility was really busy over the weekend. We have about 10 times more testers,” an official at the university hospital in Gyeonggi Province said. “We had some people who did go to one of those clubs. But many other people also requested Covid-19 testing just because they were in the Itaewon neighborhood.”
Medical institutions are on high alert as the cluster infections seem to have spread from Itaewon to other regions of the country.
Especially after a nurse at Seongnam Citizens Medical Center and a skincare worker at a dermatology clinic in Jeju Island tested positive after visiting a club in Itaewon, the repercussions are growing.
Seongnam Citizens Medical Center said it shut down the operation room where the nurse used to work, and quarantined five anesthesiologists who worked with the nurse.
The skincare worker at a dermatology clinic in Jeju, who contracted the virus after a visit to an Itaewon club, is known to have contacted 144 people. People in Jeju Island are in shock because the island had been rarely affected by Covid-19.
Medical institutions are reportedly investigating whether their staff visited Itaewon recently. Even if they did not visit a club, they are encouraged to be tested if they visited a bar or a restaurant in Itaewon, hospital officials said.
“Not only our hospital but others are checking workers if they visited Itaewon. As there are many young workers in hospitals, hospitals are rushing to check,” an official at a university hospital said. “At a hospital, only one confirmed case could cause massive damage. So, everyone is on full alert.”
Another university hospital official also said that among people who tested for Covid-19, 10 or 20 are hospital workers. “There are some people who visited Itaewon, if not a club. So, they requested testing,” he said.
An expert said the authorities should encourage visitors of the six Itaewon clubs to get tested voluntarily and self-isolate.
“The authorities can’t confirm the list of the visitors of the clubs accurately. Even if they are asymptomatic, they should be allowed to get tested,” said Lee Jae-gab, a professor at the Infectious Disease Department of Hallym University Medical Center. “In a cluster infection, there is no solution but to do extensive testing.”
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