OSAKA — There were more than 430,000 people recovering from the coronavirus at home as of Feb. 2, amid Japan’s sixth infection wave. One 68-year-old woman in the city of Osaka who contracted the virus tried to contact her local public health center about her condition for days, but without success. And then her daughters and grandchildren living with her also developed fevers.
Through this woman’s case, the Mainichi Shimbun reflected on what we can do if we end up in the same position, which could happen to any of us anytime.
It was Jan. 21. The highly infectious omicron variant was raging across Japan. The woman felt a sudden chill, and that something wasn’t right with her body. She took her temperature; 39.5 degrees Celsius. She endured a restless night. An antigen test at a hospital the next day confirmed she had COVID-19. To prevent severe symptoms, she was prescribed an antibody cocktail and told to go home and wait for the local public health center to get in touch.
But the call didn’t come. She lives with four people: two daughters and two grandchildren. The family took turns calling the public health center countless times, but couldn’t get through — perhaps because it was swamped in responding to other cases. They tried a special hotline for people recovering at home in Osaka Prefecture, too, but were told that “we cannot respond if your case hasn’t been dealt with by the public health center.”
The woman has renal failure and needs periodic dialysis, which she gets at her local clinic three times a week. While she worried over whether she could get the treatment as usual, her 33-year-old daughter developed a fever. They contacted a hospital, but were told they don’t see close-contact patients, and that they should follow public health center instructions.
The older woman’s fever finally broke four days later, and she returned to health. But she had still heard nothing from the public health center. She approached her regular doctor, who listened to her circumstances. The woman said she was relieved when they made a special allowance for her to get dialysis at the clinic.
Meanwhile, the virus spread through her household. Her 30-year-old daughter, and her 33-year-old daughter’s one-month-old baby both tested positive. No one could leave the house, and relatives had to help by dropping groceries off outside.
They carefully observed infection prevention measures at home, too. Even inside, the family wore masks and diligently ventilated the rooms. But they couldn’t split people into different living spaces. Although a four-story property, there is only living space on the top three — the first is an office for a business.
“Our space on each floor is pretty small, and it was hard to completely distance from each other. I didn’t think it would be so infectious,” the woman said.
The public health center got in touch on Jan. 28, a week after her symptoms developed. She was told over the phone that she would be able to go outside again in four days. “Perhaps the public health center was really busy, but couldn’t they have contacted me a little sooner?” she said.
“When my children and grandchild were getting fevers, I really didn’t know what to do and was thinking, what will happen to my family? We were helped by our relatives and our doctor, but I think if we hadn’t had people to support us it would’ve been really tough. I want the national and municipal governments to work out a plan to improve this situation,” she said.
The city of Osaka public health center commented on her case, “We look at reports from hospitals and prioritize contacting people with preexisting conditions. We do not know of any particular reason why contact was delayed in this instance.”
Points to keep in mind when recovering at home with the coronavirus:
Separate the rooms that family members use
Infected people and other residents should wear masks as much as possible
Observe thorough handwashing and ventilation
Disinfect places that are often touched by multiple residents
Keep trash tightly closed when throwing it out
Take appropriate exercise including stretching
*Advice based on documents issued by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and others
(Japanese original by Sachiko Miyakawa, Osaka City News Department)