What's It Like To Work In A Hospital In Korea In The Time Of COVID-19?

According to a Korean researcher who works in Seoul.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF DA EUN KIM

There's no denying that South Korea is one of the very few countries that's made notable progress in containing the virus. After the first case of COVID-19 was reported in January 2020, the country became determined to control the spread. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said, "We took an all-government approach. The Prime Minister created a task force of all government ministries and, crucially, all regional and city governments, too—we are a very devolved democracy."

Of the key to their continued success, Foreign Minister Kang revealed it was their transparency, "sharing every detail of how this virus is evolving, how it is spreading, and what the government is doing about it, warts and all." Mass testing has also been one of Korea's power moves, in hopes of "flattening the curve." To give you an idea of what it's been like, Da Eun Kim, a researcher who works in a hospital in Seoul, gives us a look into her life in the time of COVID-19.

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I commute to a hospital in Seoul every day via public transportation. I work as a researcher at a building that is couple of hundred meters away from the main hospital. My routineboth on the weekdays and the weekendshas changed since the pandemic. Life, overall, has been hectic but still somewhat orderly. My friend, who was supposed to get married in March, rescheduled her wedding to June. All of my workshops and seminars have been delayed indefinitely. 

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Temperature checks

The hospital I work for suffered through MERS a few years ago, so the administration is determined to fight this current virus. (Editor's Note: MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. South Korea had the largest MERS outbreak outside of the Middle East.) If any of the staff tests positive, the entire hospital has to shut down. All employees, from any department or field, are strictly advised to be vigilant about their health and hygiene. 

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To avoid the worst-case scenario, employees report their temperature and symptoms (if present) via Kakao Talk, and the data is sent to the COVID-19 task force. The research building has placed infrared thermometers at the entrance of each office with a hand sanitizer on each side. We do this twice a day and on the weekends, too. Those who miss reporting more than four times get their work ID and lunch card nullified (temporarily). COURTESY OF DA EUN KIM
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Hospital entrance

The main hospital building that receives thousands of outpatients every day has a more rigorous process.

All visitors and patients can only enter after having their temperature and symptoms checked by the hospital staff at the entrance. It reminds me of going through customs. COURTESY OF DA EUN KIM
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Antiseptic hand wash is literally everywhere—at every entrance, next to the stairway, in front of the cafeteria, the cafe, and the elevator. I, like everybody, obsessively take a few pumps every time I spot one. If I earned points for every use, I'd earn a thousand. COURTESY OF DA EUN KIM
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Cafeteria

I used to rush to the cafeteria as soon as it opened. But now, there's a new lunch schedule imposed on all employees to even out the crowd. This week, for example, I can eat lunch at noon. Next week, it's at 12:30.

There's now a "one-row seating" policy where people have to sit side by side and a "eat-in-silence." COURTESY OF DA EUN KIM
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Meeting room

I had two meetings this week. Usually anywhere from seven to 11 people would gather in a meeting room but now, we sit in front of laptops in our own spaces. 

A screen pops whenever we have a scheduled meeting, and people attend by logging in. Sometimes, the connection is unstable, making little room for small talk. Once everyone's online, we go straight to business. In a way, our meetings are now more efficient. COURTESY OF DA EUN KIM
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Masks

The hospital tries its best to provide masks for all staff.

Frontliners receive four masks a week; researchers like myself get two. We are told to wear masks at all times, except while we're eating. COURTESY OF DA EUN KIM

Outdoors

I try my best not to go out as much but my dog needs his walk, and my family needs food. Grocery shopping isn't as hardcore as some other countries where panicked citizens have stocked on everyday necessities. 

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Shopping for groceries is pretty much the same except we do it less often and while wearing a mask. COURTESY OF DA EUN KIM



Many public spaces that attract people—parks, playgrounds, even some churches—have been shut down. Some rural regions have even cut down the flowers to strongly discourage the spring time travelers from visiting. The government also reluctantly decided to start schools with online classes. The news has upset families with kids as well as street vendors who profit the most during spring and many others. However, desperate time calls for desperate measures. This decision will help flatten the curve, doing the public a service. COURTESY OF DA EUN KIM
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I learned that I am not as big of a homebody as I thought. It's extremely frustrating that I can't remember the last time I traveled somewhere or hung out with a group of friends. Instead of moping, I'm coping by planning future travels, drawing on my iPad, binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, selling my clothes online, and making Dalgona coffee. After all, I'm a Virgo who likes to be productive. Rather than complaining, I stick to my newfound mantra: Stay in and stay safe. 

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All photos were submitted on April 6, 2020. Visit reportr.world for more COVID-19 stories.

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