Summer Heat Threatens Frontline Medical Workers

  • By Bae Jun-yong, Yang Seung-joo

    June 11, 2020 11:34

    The early summer heat is posing a new threat to medical workers on the frontlines of the fight against coronavirus.

    The government on Wednesday pledged to support staff at testing centers on news of medical workers suffering from dehydration across the country.

    Temperatures rose to 32 degrees Celsius at a community health center in Seocho in southern Seoul on Wednesday afternoon. Kim Young-il, a 65-year-old doctor working in a converted shipping container, was drenched in sweat as he stepped outside and his goggles fogged up from the heat. The temperature inside his protective jumpsuit was 38 degrees.

    A medical worker cools herself at a community health center in Seoul on Wednesday.

    "The protective suit is thick and we can't turn on the air conditioners in the container for fear of infection," he said. Kim has been working four hours a day, six days a week at testing centers since February. He takes a day off only when he works the night shift.

    He does not eat and tries to refrain from drinking water inside the container since he has to change into a new jumpsuit each time. "The number of tests we conduct a day has fallen to 30 to 40 people a day, but there were times when 130 to 140 people were tested a day," he recalled. "I was exhausted when my shift ended."

    Medical workers across the country suffer similar conditions.

    Coronavirus testing centers are set up in outdoor tents where samples are collected and container boxes where symptoms are checked. Doctors and nurses working in the container boxes wear protective suits while those working in tents wear only gowns, face masks, face shields and gloves. No showers facilities have been set up, so the doctors and nurses simply have to change their outfits when they are drenched in sweat.

    Stress levels are also rising. Lee Eun-ji, a nurse at a community health center in Yangcheon in southwestern Seoul said, "We are seeing more complaints from people who come to be tested as the weather gets hotter and waiting lines grow longer."

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