On the frontlines of the pandemic, health workers face a range of challenges

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On the frontlines of the pandemic, health workers face a range of challenges

A medical worker warms up in front of a heater earlier this month at a Covid-19 testing site in Yongsan District, central Seoul. [YONHAP]

A medical worker warms up in front of a heater earlier this month at a Covid-19 testing site in Yongsan District, central Seoul. [YONHAP]

 
Mr. Kim will never forget his first week on the job. He thought he’d heard everything about the grueling work conditions at his new workplace, but never imagined he would have to contend with such brutal temperatures.
 
“I thought my hands were going to fall off,” he told the JoongAng Ilbo last Tuesday. “It was freezing.”
 
Kim, who wished to speak on the condition of anonymity, is a frontline medical worker at one of dozens of Covid-19 testing sites that opened in Seoul over the past two weeks as daily coronavirus infections in the capital began to explode.
 
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has focused on tracking down asymptomatic Covid-19 patients in the city by setting up more than 60 new testing centers and offering free tests, hoping patients will drop by before unwittingly spreading the virus to others.
 
At least 500 people have tested positive at these testing sites so far, from over 180,000 tests administered.
 
Where Kim works, some 630 people are tested on average each day. “I once saw over 150 people lined up to get tested,” he said.
 
But the hardest part of it all, Kim stressed, is definitely the cold.  
 
“Before starting the job, I heard workers at Covid-19 testing sites used to struggle a lot from the scorching summer heat,” he said. “I thought I’d be okay now since those hot, stuffy days are over, but I never expected this icy weather.”
 
To fight the cold, Kim said he wears two sets of undergarments to work every day and carries several heat packs with him.  
 
“We didn’t have many heaters the first week, so it was tough,” he said. “But now we have several, so it’s all right. I feel proud when citizens thank me and tell me to keep up the good work.”
 
Other frontline workers who mostly care for patients indoors don’t have to fight the cold, but they have their own plights.
 
At so-called life treatment centers, where Covid-19 patients with mild or no symptoms stay, nurses must teach older patients how to use smartphones so they can navigate an app used remotely to inform staff about their symptoms and conditions.
 
“They’re not used to using smartphones, so even if we teach them how to use the app step by step, they still struggle a lot,” said Lee, a nurse at a life treatment center in Paju, Gyeonggi.
 
At another life treatment center, a worker complained about messy patients leaving trash all over their rooms, despite guidelines dictating they should put their garbage in a bag every day and place it outside their rooms.  
 
“We have a few of them,” she said with a sigh.
 
 
BY CHAE HYE-SEON   [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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