[KH Explains] Essential guide to treating COVID-19 at home

A healthcare worker sterilizes equipment after transporting a COVID-19 patient to Seoul Medical Center in Jungnang-gu, Seoul, on Monday. (Yonhap)

For foreign residents in Korea who don’t speak the local language, this may seem like the most dangerous time to live here since the pandemic began.

Over the past week, more than 200,000 people a day in South Korea have been diagnosed with COVID-19. With no sign that the country is pulling out of the omicron surge, the pressure on the medical system is increasing dangerously day by day.

Yet all patients are expected to take responsibility for their own safe recovery at home, unless they belong to certain “high risk” groups. In other words, no one will watch you unless you are found to be particularly vulnerable.

From testing and quarantine to getting medicine, here’s what you need to know if you end up with a case of COVID-19 here.

How can I get a PCR test?

Polymerase chain reaction testing is no longer free for everyone. To get a free PCR test at a public health center as before, you must now be eligible.

Eligible for free PCR tests are high-risk groups, including people over the age of 60, people with underlying health conditions, pregnant women and people officially identified by authorities as “close contacts”. from an infected person, such as family members or healthcare professionals. .

If you don’t belong to any of these groups, you must first take a rapid antigen test. Rapid tests are available at public health centers and at many, but not all, neighborhood clinics. You can also do it yourself with a self-test kit. Two red lines mean a positive result, after which you are qualified for a PCR.

To find locations for PCR testing, local GPS maps will be helpful. Both Naver Map and Kakao Map have English versions. Google Maps also contains information about test locations.

Once there, make sure you stand in the right line. There will be two lines – one for rapid tests and another for PCR tests. PCR lines tend to be longer these days.

If you are pretty sure you have COVID-19, it would be best to go directly to the testing sites where you can get a rapid test and then a PCR test all at once.

Test performed. After that ?

Wait for the message. Your result – negative or positive – will be sent by SMS, usually the day after your test.

In a positive case, you will also receive a link to a website where you will need to upload personal information, including family relationships and close contacts, as well as underlying health conditions.

Based on this survey, officials categorize patients into two groups — the intensive care group and the general management group — which involve different home treatment protocols. This classification process can take a day or two.

People in the intensive management patient group — those aged 60 and over or those in their 50s with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems — are monitored by health facilities twice a year. day via phone calls and receive a care kit that includes thermometers and a pulse oximeter.

For everyone else, it is their responsibility to monitor their own health and seek medical help when needed.

How to do telemedicine?

Remote medical consultations are available free of charge for COVID-19 patients.

In the Seoul area, finding a hospital and clinic offering medical consultation by phone is not easy. But if you live in other regions, the situation may be different. So, check in advance if a clinic you usually go to offers telemedicine services for home treatment of COVID-19.

After a phone consultation, the doctor will write a prescription and send it to a pharmacy near you. To retrieve the medicine, you may need the help of an uninfected person – a family member, friend or acquaintance. Some pharmacies offer free delivery or you can opt for a paid express delivery service.

Although Korean nationals can use telemedicine apps, including Doctor Now and Olla Care, these apps are generally not available to foreigners.

Various government and non-profit organizations are now also providing language support to foreigners here with COVID-19.

How can I get Paxlovid?

In South Korea, the use of Paxlovid – an oral antiviral to treat COVID-19 – is limited to patients aged 60 and over, people with underlying conditions in their 40s and 50s, and those with the immune system is weakened.

As it is a prescription drug, you should consult a doctor first. Patients under home treatment can request telephone consultation and prescription from designated clinics. Only about 470 pharmacies across the country have the Pfizer pill in stock. For example, there is only one pharmacy with oral medications in Gyeongju City.

So if you think you need the oral antiviral, don’t hesitate too long to ask. Paxlovid is known to work best when given early.

When should I ask for help?

Symptoms that require immediate medical attention are blood oxygen saturation levels below 94%, chest pressure or pain, difficulty breathing or staying awake, and fingernails or lips that turn pale or blue. among others.

In such cases, you should contact the medical personnel using the numbers given in the text message you received from the health authorities. If you can’t get through, which is normal with the massive number of daily infections these days, try telemedicine services, where a doctor can make a request for a hospital bed. You can also call the emergency services 119 if you think you need urgent care. You need to let them know you are a COVID-19 patient ahead of time.

When can I return to work?

The self-quarantine period ends seven days after the sample collection date, regardless of the patient’s vaccination history. This is when you can return to work, although some workplaces may be more cautious and have their own guidelines.

Health authorities are advising people to take precautions for at least another three days, such as refraining from going to crowded places.

A family member tested positive. Should I self-quarantine?

No. Quarantine rules changed recently so that people living with a confirmed patient are not required to quarantine at home, regardless of their vaccination status.

However, two tests are necessary. An initial PCR test within three days must be followed by a rapid antigen test – or PCR test for people over 60 – on the sixth or seventh day.

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