Four nurses test positive at SMC in GangnamAt least four nurses at Samsung Medical Center (SMC) in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, have contracted the coronavirus, health officials announced Tuesday, raising worries of a cluster at one of Korea’s largest hospitals.
The news came as the cluster of infections that started in nightclubs in the Itaewon section of central Seoul seemed to come under control, nearly two weeks after the first case was discovered.
By Tuesday noon, 187 Covid-19 patients were traced to the Itaewon cluster, up by seven from Monday noon. The figure is a significant drop from last week, when 20 to 30 new cases were being reported on an almost daily basis.
The SMC hot spot first emerged at 5 p.m. Monday when a 29-year-old female nurse received a positive test result, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said Tuesday morning in an emergency press briefing. Contact tracing has begun and three other female nurses at SMC who had contact with the 29-year-old tested positive Tuesday morning, Park continued.
How the 29-year-old got infected is yet unknown. Health officials only said Tuesday that it appears the 29-year-old nurse didn’t visit Itaewon lately or have contact with anyone who did.
Medical staff and patients who had contact with the four nurses are going through virus tests. At least 277 people at the hospital were found to have had contact with the 29-year-old nurse — 262 medical professionals who either ate with her or had some other form of contact, and 15 patients.
Officials believe more people could come down with Covid-19 in light of the fact that the nurses participated in several surgeries.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government said in a statement that the office has dispatched a team of 18 officials to the hospital to help control the outbreak. The Gangnam District Office, which jurisdiction includes SMC, said some surgery rooms and clinics on the third floor of the hospital’s main building, where the nurses frequented, have been tentatively shut down.
It’s the first time that a medical professional at one of Korea’s five largest hospitals, known here as “the big five,” contracted the coronavirus, though many doctors and nurses at small hospitals, clinics and nursing facilities for the elderly have become infected. By Tuesday, a total of 266 medical professionals in Korea, including the four nurses at SMC, contracted Covid-19, which accounts for about 2.4 percent of the nation’s total cases. Only one known doctor has died.
The SMC has a checkered history with virus outbreaks, as nearly half of Korea’s infections of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015 were traced specifically to the hospital and its emergency rooms. Among Korea’s 186 MERS patients, 90 infections were connected to the hospital, 75 of which were traced to its emergency rooms. At the time, the hospital faced severe criticism for delaying reports to health authorities about its list of suspected patients and the people that confirmed patients had contacted.
According to details from the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the SMC about the 29-year-old nurse, she participated in a surgery last Thursday and helped with triage the next day near a section of the hospital that leads to many surgery rooms.
Over the weekend, she didn’t go to work and felt symptoms of the coronavirus, including a fever. She was tested Monday morning and received her positive test result later that afternoon, after which she was transferred to a different hospital for Covid-19 treatment.
Across the nation, 13 people tested positive for the coronavirus Monday, four of whom represented imported cases, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). The country’s total case load now stands at 11,078.
By Monday midnight, 263 people had died, the same as the previous day, while 9,938 people have been declared fully recovered, up by 34 from the day before.
Of Korea’s total 11,078 patients, 1,181, or about 10.7 percent, contracted the coronavirus while overseas, KCDC data showed, mostly in the United States or Europe.
Infections traced to a 25-year-old Korean hagwon (cram school) instructor in Yonghyeon-dong, Michuhol District in Incheon — who visited King Club in Itaewon early this month and later lied to officials about his employment status — also rose to 22 Tuesday, up by five from the previous day.
A Chinese couple that rode in a taxi that was previously ridden by the hagwon instructor received their positive Covid-19 test results Tuesday, and so has the cab driver’s 4-year-old grandson. The driver tested positive on Sunday.
A 17-year-old high school student and his 46-year-old mother were also diagnosed Tuesday after visiting a so-called coin noraebang (singing room) in Michuhol District, which was visited by another high school student who got infected after attending the instructor’s class.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye reaffirmed Tuesday that classes for high school seniors will officially launch Wednesday, reopening schools for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak swept the nation. Most schools were supposed to begin classes on March 2, but the government delayed the date several times and made schools offer online classes and learning materials to their students from April.
If everything goes as planned, high school seniors will go to school on Wednesday; 11th, ninth, first and second graders, as well as kindergarteners, will return to classes on May 27; 10th, eighth, third and fourth graders on June 3; and fifth, sixth and seventh graders on June 8.
Seoul’s education office, for instance, recommended high schools in the capital allow 12th graders to come to school every day due to their tight schedule preparing for the college entrance exam, and 10th and 11th graders to come to school every other week. Elementary and middle schools in Seoul were recommended to require their students to come to school at least once a week.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN, YOUN SANG-UN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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