At-home is current way of treating Covid patients
ANSEONG, Gyeonggi — A Covid patient isn't feeling well.
“You keep coughing and you’ve got a stuffy nose?" asks a nurse from Gyeonggi Provincial Medical Center Ansung Hospital, a public hospital in Anseong, Gyeonggi.
She is talking to the patient, who is at home, on the phone. This is one of two calls made every day as long as the patient is being treated at home — meaning not in the hospital.
"If you feel like the medicine you’re taking isn’t effective, you can get a non-face-to-face treatment at our hospital," the nurse continues on the Tuesday morning call. "I’ll help you set that up.”
As Korea moves into a new phase of its fight against Covid-19, at-home treatment of patients is becoming increasingly important. It replaces a rush to the hospital, the default reaction of sick people in the past. Encouraging people to stay home keeps hospital beds from filling up — and more spreading of the disease. Home treatment is a kind of quarantine.
At-home treatment has been emphasized since November, when the country tried to shift to "Living With Covid-19" strategies. It became even more important with the arrival of the Omicron variant, which is highly transmissible but also seems to produce milder cases — which can be treated at home.
“With Omicron replacing the Delta variant, we believe an increase in new patients is inevitable for the time being,” Park Hyang, director of antivirus measures at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters (CDMH), told a briefing Tuesday.
“As the number of asymptomatic and mild cases is expected to increase on a large scale, the number and proportion of patients treated at home are expected to gradually increase,” she added.
According to the Health Ministry, a total of 32,505 virus patients were being treated at home as of Monday midnight. Nationwide, there are a total of 369 designated medical institutions that coordinate at-home treatment, which can manage up to 58,000 patients.
Covid-19 patients treated at home must record their health condition — including their body temperature and oxygen saturation level — on a mobile application three times a day: at 8 a.m., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. A nurse calls a patient twice a day, but that can be reduced to once if the patient is diligent with the app.
Patients older than 59, who have underlying diseases, or who are in their 50s but haven’t been vaccinated are subject to intensified monitoring.
For elderly patients or those who show unusual symptoms, a doctor may give what is called a "non-face-to-face consultation," meaning a phone or video call.
In case a patient suddenly deteriorates, face-to-face treatment is also available. Ansung Hospital is equipped with a new outpatient Covid care center and also maintains an emergency contact system for emergency cases at night.
On Tuesday, Korea saw its largest ever number of daily new Covid-19 infections, 8,571, fueled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant. The number more than doubled compared to the previous week, when cases stood in the 3,000s to 4,000s.
To brace for a rapid rise in patients, Korea made changes to its home treatment system, shortening quarantine periods from Wednesday to be able to treat more patients at home.
Starting Wednesday, the quarantine periods for people who have been fully inoculated but test positive will be reduced from 10 to seven days, while that for unvaccinated people will remain at 10 days. However, the last three days of quarantine will be voluntary and patients won't be monitored by local authorities.
Fully vaccinated people refer to those who had their third dose 14 days earlier or their second dose within 90 days.
The government said it will also review reducing checking up on patients treated at home from two or three times a day to one to two times.
In addition, medical institutions designated for providing at-home treatment will also be expanded to grass root-level clinics.
“To promote home treatment at clinic-level medical facilities, we will expand the number to more than 400 to prepare for a situation where patients are more than 20,000 patients a day,” Park said. Outpatient treatment centers, of which there are currently 51, are planned to be expanded to 90 by the end of February.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]