• Chunichi Shimbun

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With the local medical system in Nagoya under strain due to the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections in the city, more than 6,000 coronavirus patients have been forced to recuperate at home.

For some, immediate hospitalization would be impossible, even if their pneumonia worsened to the point where they needed to be put on oxygen.

Tasked with monitoring the condition of such patients are local public health centers, which are swamped with work amid the surge in infections.

At 8 p.m. on Sept. 1, more than 20 workers in charge of COVID-19 response at a public health center in Nagoya’s Naka Ward — nearly half of all the employees in charge at the center — were still busy working.

Even two hours later, at 10 p.m., as music echoed over the microphone to encourage workers to go home, five officials continued working on documents containing patients’ information.

One of the center’s main tasks is to talk with the patients over the phone to confirm their condition, asking them questions like whether they have developed a fever or are eating properly.

Some 600 COVID-19 patients in Naka Ward are recuperating at home, with the tally having recently been increasing by around 100 a day.

Beside each of the 10 nurses contacting patients numerous files have piled up containing the details of those newly diagnosed, who they still need to call.

“There are more new patients than the number of those who have recovered and no longer need to be contacted,” said Meiko Mizuno, a 55-year-old nurse at the center.

The team calls the patients, prioritizing older people and those with underlying illness, and sometimes visits them if they can’t be reached by phone.

Among patients recovering at home, some have developed symptoms of pneumonia and need oxygen. In a two-week period in late August, the cumulative total of people in that condition was 25. As of Sept. 1, the number totaled eight, mostly in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

“Such patients should be hospitalized immediately in a normal situation, but that is not possible under the current circumstances,” said Hiroshi Tanabe, 39, a doctor at the center. “If the number of infections stays high like this, the situation will worsen even more.”

While the medical nurses call up patients, public health nurses work to confirm what the newly infected people were doing before they tested positive, with the help of other officials at the center.

If a patient had contact with unvaccinated older people — those with risks of developing severe symptoms if infected — it is necessary to quickly identify them.

The center is also responsible for lending pulse oximeters to patients recuperating at home so that they can measure their own blood oxygen levels, as well as conducting PCR tests at a site set up especially for people who have come into close contact with COVID-19 patients.

On top of that, the center is still involved in tasks other than COVID-19 response — including issuing maternity passbooks to pregnant women and approving applications from people who wish to open restaurants and bars.

According to Keiko Okada, 59, head of the center’s division in charge of COVID-19 response, the center came under increasing strain in mid-August when the daily tally of new infections reached 700 in Aichi Prefecture.

“We had some 50 workers responding to COVID-19 infections, but we were still overwhelmed with the amount of work,” Okada said. “We were on the verge of collapse and several times we were unable to go home until the early hours.”

Since then, the number of infections has risen — but with more than 10 workers coming to help from other divisions, they can now finish the day’s work before midnight.

“Still, the center is like a battlefield during the daytime. Workers are exhausted,” she said. “And if we get behind in handling tasks, it could impact the work to confirm the state of patients’ health.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Sept. 3.

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