SINGAPORE: Before testing positive for COVID-19, he was serving quarantine orders – but this Certis officer, also known as case 44, never expected to contract the novel coronavirus.
“We are very, very strict with the PPE (personal protective equipment) that we have to put on before we attend cases. So the chances are as good as – I can say – zero,” he told reporters on Tuesday (Apr 21).
The officer, who requested not to be named, reported the onset of symptoms on Jan 31. However, he brushed it off as a recurring case of tonsillitis, which affects him three to four times a year.
“I went to the GP because my tonsils were swollen. Normally, taking antibiotics would be okay, but after three or four days, the fever did not subside, I didn’t feel good, so I thought something could be wrong,” he said.
This prompted him to visit Khoo Teck Puat Hospital on Feb 6, four days after he went to the general practitioner. He tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb 10.
According to the Ministry of Health when it announced his case, the 38-year-old had also been on duty at Chingay 2020, although the People’s Association later clarified that he had not been deployed at the main parade.
He was discharged from the hospital on Feb 18, nine days after testing positive for COVID-19.
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QUARANTINE ORDER AGENT
Before having symptoms, the officer served quarantine orders on two people from Wuhan who subsequently tested positive for the infection.
As part of his role as a Quarantine Order Agent, he and a nurse from the Health Promotion Board (HPB) would put on protective gear like face masks and gloves before approaching a person’s home.
If the person is a suspected case, they would put on the full PPE.
The nurse would first take the person’s temperature and check for symptoms of the virus.
If there are no symptoms, the officer would then go ahead to serve a quarantine order. If the person displays any symptoms, he would then notify the Health Ministry to have the person taken to hospital.
The officer would also have to assess if their places of residence are suitable for home quarantine. If not, he would contact his colleagues at Certis for clearance to send the person to a government quarantine facility.
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“I was super excited to be given this opportunity as this role was really new to me and I felt that it was a very good learning experience,” he said.
While he understood the risks involved, he added that he was “very proud to do (his) part in support of a nationwide effort to fight COVID-19”.
“I DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO REACT”
When he tested positive for COVID-19, the officer said he was in “disbelief”.
“I didn’t know how to react, and I was mostly worried about my family and thinking what if they had tested positive as well, because I got two younger kids,” he said, adding that he was worried about his children having to be in isolation.
His son is in Primary 1, while his daughter is in kindergarten.
When he found out, the first thing he did was to call his wife. But when she answered, she was already crying.
“She said: ‘I know already, the doctor called me first,” he recounted.
“I was trying to remain calm, but it’s very difficult. I’m trying to console my wife, while trying to put on a brave front, which was quite tough.”
His family was placed under quarantine, and his wife had to look after the family while he was in hospital. He and his wife chose not to tell their children that he had COVID-19, saying only that their father was unwell.
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While it was hard on the family, their extended family and his colleagues at Certis proved to be strong pillars of support.
Case 44 recalled how his sister and brother-in-law would buy groceries for his wife and leave them outside the door.
His Commanding Officer would also check in on him daily, buy groceries for his family and arranged for his house to be disinfected. Certis even created a Tumblr page for other employees to write words of encouragement.
“I was very touched by their support and it really boosted my morale and helped me concentrate on my recovery,” he said.
Case 44 is also the first recipient of the Courage Fund, which collects donations to go towards providing relief to vulnerable individuals and families, including healthcare workers, frontline workers and volunteers affected by the COVID-19.
He received S$3,000 from the fund.
GOING THROUGH ISOLATION IN HOSPITAL
Being in the hospital was tough for him. Not only was he lethargic and weak, he also lost his appetite and suffered from a serious case of cabin fever.
“The first three or four days, when I was really sick, going through the treatment, I was just going through the motions. But the moment I started to get my energy back, I started getting very restless,” he said.
Without his regular running sessions and football games, he started to grow restless.
“I made trips to the toilet more often, because it’s in the same room. I walked around inside the small room. Just need to get out of the bed,” he said.
But the nurses and doctors at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital greatly eased his time at the hospital, he said. They also surprised him with a cake on his birthday.
“It was a really nice gesture from them, since I couldn’t celebrate with my family, they did something really special for me,” he said.
“HAPPY TEARS” AT BEING HOME
After being discharged, the first thing the officer did was to hug his family when he got home. His children were “ecstatic” at his return, he said.
“They were screaming, daddy you’re back! I tried to be cool, but the happy tears just dropped,” he said.
He has since gone back to work, not as a quarantine officer, but in a role that looks after the deployment of Certis officers in government facilities.
Given the chance, however, he said he would be a quarantine officer again, adding that he was “heartened” to see Singaporeans rallying to help those in need.
“We can do more by showing more compassion and empathy for those infected by COVID-19,” he said.
“These are very difficult times. It is important to let them know that they are not alone and are supported by their fellow Singaporeans in their journey back to recovery … To those who are infected by COVID-19, believe that you are not alone and please remain strong in the fight against it.”