Biggest center for mild Covid cases wraps up its work
The Dongho Residential Treatment Center, Korea’s largest Covid-19 quarantine facility for patients with mild cases, is closing, a milestone in the receding of the pandemic.
Samsung Medical Center sent medical staff to the Dongho Residential Treatment Center in Dongdaemun District, eastern Seoul, last Oct. 5 following a request from Seoul City.
A total of 2,902 Covid-19 patients received treatment at the center until the release of its last patient on Monday. Some 410 patients being monitored were transferred to other medical institutions.
Residential treatment centers were introduced in Korea in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic to treat mild to moderate cases and to prevent infection within medical facilities. When the country’s virus wave started to grow, they served as quarantine sites to prevent the spread of infection in homes.
When the number of Covid infections started soaring last November, the occupation rate of residential treatment centers rose to 70 percent.
The Omicron wave kept the centers full because cases were often mild.
But then Omicron cases exploded, and the government adopted an at-home treatment system in October, making at-home care the default Covid-19 treatment except for high-risk groups with risks of hospitalization.
Residential treatment centers started accepting only elderly people without guardians and people living in residential environments vulnerable to virus infection.
The occupation rate went down to around 10 percent, and the government started closing them.
Samsung Medical Center also decided to end the operation of the Dongho Residential Treatment Center on Tuesday, which was the last private institution of its kind.
Three doctors, 15 nurses, two radiologists, and at least two administrative staff were present every day to monitor patients. During the seven months of its operation, a total of 261 medical staff were deployed.
Kim Hyung-jin, head of the Dongho Residential Treatment Center and professor of rheumatology, said November to December last year was the most difficult period for the center.
“It was the biggest crisis, worrying all day and night whether something might go wrong with patients,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo.
"As we are a designated residential treatment center, medical staff have been stationed to monitor patients and to serve as an intermediate buffer to quickly detect patients with worsened conditions and send them to hospitals for treatment," said Kim.
In November and December, Covid-19 cases exploded and all hospitals were full. To make matters worse, a urea water shortage disrupted the supply of medical oxygen. Dongho Residential Treatment Center successfully passed its most dangerous period and had no fatalities, Kim said.
Amid a clear downturn in the Omicron wave, Korea reported 51,141 new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, less than half the 118,456 cases reported two weeks ago.
The number of virus-related deaths dropped to 49, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) data.
Yet a new sublineage of Stealth Omicron called BA.2.12.1, which is spreading in the United States, was confirmed for the first time in Korea on Tuesday.
It is known to spread 23 to 27 percent faster than the Stealth Omicron variant, the fastest variant detected so far.
Korea’s first BA.2.12.1 patient was a woman in her 50s who entered from the United States on April 16, and tested positive the next day.
The country also added new cases of the recombinant Omicron variants XE and XM.
BY EO HWAN-HEE, SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]