'I'm used to it already': Tan Tock Seng Hospital staff on the risks of working at the heart of a COVID-19 cluster

'I'm used to it already': Tan Tock Seng Hospital staff on the risks of working at the heart of a COVID-19 cluster

Tan Tock Seng Hospital (5)
Pedestrians outside Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore on Apr 30, 2021. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: Staff at Tan Tock Seng Hospital received a rude shock in their inboxes on Wednesday (Apr 28), when a company-wide email broke the news that fresh COVID-19 infections - three patients and two staff members - had emerged in the hospital.

As of Friday, 13 cases, including a 46-year-old nurse, have been linked to the hospital, making it Singapore's largest active cluster.

“I was really shocked. I really didn’t expect this because community cases were quite low, and especially in a hospital, I thought it was the last place it would happen,” said one staff member, Jess*. 

For another staff member, Sarah*, that initial shock was swiftly followed by worry. Her role requires her to interact with many patients across the hospital.

“I was afraid. And if I have (COVID-19), would I be spreading it to my family?”

READ: Authorities quarantine 32 ICA officers deployed at Changi Airport who are close contacts of COVID-19 case

Sarah was not the only one filled with dread.

“Some of my patients were asking whether they are safe, because they heard (about the infections)," Sarah told CNA. "You can see some form of fear around."

“(Outpatients were also) saying that if they knew the news earlier, they would not have come for their appointments.”

MEASURES TAKEN BY HOSPITAL TO CURB INFECTIONS

But beyond the initial shock, staff members like Jess said they are not too fazed by working at the heart of the country's current largest active cluster.

“We’ve faced (this risk) since the start of COVID, I’m used to it already,” she said, adding that her family had also grown accustomed to perpetual concerns about her safety.

“We’ve been through the circuit breaker period, and I think that was worse.

“That time, everyone who came in, we were not sure whether they had COVID or not, but now … it’s still very localised,” she said.

A slew of measures taken to ring-fence infections has also helped put Jess at ease.

The hospital said it would be testing all employees, quarantining potential contacts, locking down two wards, banning all visitors from wards and redirecting non-life threatening cases to other hospitals.

“They reacted very quickly to it, to shut down wards and do terminal cleaning of quite a few places, making sure to contain the virus,” Jess said.

She added that staff members regularly reassure patients that they have tested negative for COVID-19, in order to allay their fears.

“I would also say they have already locked down the wards and that so far, this (area) is safe,” Sarah added.

TIGHTER SAFETY MEASURES

As a result of the tightened measures, the typically bustling hospital has become considerably quieter, Sarah said. But otherwise, everyone is carrying out their duties like they normally would. 

“People were talking about it, thinking about what will happen next, whether we’ll need to be isolated next … But overall, I don’t think there is any change in atmosphere,” Jess said.

The biggest difference - an even greater emphasis on hygiene and safety measures than before, she said. For one, there have been more reminders to wear masks and protective gear properly. 

“It’s just that there are more stringent measures we have to take, (and) we have to be more careful,” Jess said.

The staff members added that, ultimately, the cluster has served as a reminder that they cannot let down their guard.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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Source: CNA/cl(ac)

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