COVID-19: Home recovery patients 'anxious' without clear instructions, set up Telegram group for support
SINGAPORE: Undergoing home recovery is a “strange feeling” and “very unnatural” for Jacob (not his real name), who is currently recovering from COVID-19 alone in his master bedroom.
The Polish national has been living with his wife in Singapore for four years, and this is the first time he’s had to call her from behind closed doors to get him a cup of water or coffee.
“You may find it funny that we call each other on messaging apps, instead of shouting, 'Can you get me a cup of coffee?' So she does, and she places it in front of the closed doors, walks away and yells, 'I'm away!' Then I open the door, get the coffee and close the door again,” he told CNA over the phone on Tuesday (Sep 21).
Jacob tested positive last Friday with an antigen rapid test (ART), and tested positive again on a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at a clinic the day after.
“I’m positive, but my wife is still negative after all these days. It’s quite precious to preserve that, so we’re taking these measures to put a barrier between the two of us as much as possible,” he said.
The 53-year-old, who lives in a two-bedroom condominium with his wife and two cats, said he appreciated being able to recover at home.
Jacob counts himself lucky as the home recovery scheme was expanded last Saturday for fully vaccinated COVID-19 cases to include individuals up to 69 years old. Previously, only those aged 12 to 50 years were eligible for home recovery.
Under the expanded scheme, people who test positive for COVID-19 and meet the criteria can begin home recovery immediately, without having to be taken to a hospital or a community care facility.
Once he tested positive for COVID-19, Jacob locked himself in the master bedroom and “said goodbye to my wife for now”, while his wife went to restock their groceries for the next two weeks.
Since then, he’s experienced various symptoms, including fever, chills, sore throat, runny nose, and a slight loss of his sense of smell and taste.
But he considers himself in “a very fortunate situation”, as his employer implemented a hybrid work arrangement last year, so he had not been back to the office since the beginning of September.
“It made things easier because when I tested positive, there was no drama at the office at all. So from this perspective, I've been accommodated pretty well,” he told CNA, adding that he felt strong enough to check his emails now after taking a few days off work.
On the other hand, 31-year-old freelance photographer Adam (not his real name) would have preferred to serve his quarantine in a community care facility. He tested positive for COVID-19 last Wednesday.
Adam lives with his wife and a friend in a two-bedroom apartment, and his wife had to move to the living room once he tested positive.
“I feel like it’s more troublesome to be recovering from home, because you depend on your people to feed you. They have schedules to adhere to as well. They’re dealing with work. Once I’m positive, they’re under home quarantine also. They need to organise groceries. It’s a lot of undue stress on them,” he told CNA over the phone.
“I mean, it’s nice to know that I’m close to the people I love, but I also don’t want to risk infecting them.”
He added that he would like to move to a community care facility, as it would be “more comfortable” for his wife, who now has to sleep on the living room floor.
LACK OF COMMUNICATION
Both Jacob and Adam cited a lack of communication from authorities about what would happen to them, but isolated themselves even without “official” word that their home recovery period has begun.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a news release on Sep 14 that a telemedicine provider would conduct an initial remote assessment to ensure that the COVID-19 patient is clinically well. An officer, called a Home Recovery Buddy, would be in touch to walk them through the journey and provide the necessary information.
If required, a "care pack" containing a thermometer, pulse oximeter, surgical masks and hand sanitiser would be sent.
“I had one text message from MOH on Saturday telling me I’m positive, and that someone would be in touch. I waited till Sunday to receive another piece of communication, which was a text from MOH asking me to complete a form for family members. But actually, we already did that on Saturday,” said Jacob.
“An hour later, a lady from contact tracing called me about some locations in my TraceTogether app. That effectively was it. No quarantine buddy, no ART packs, nothing really.”
Jacob said he read that he can either take another PCR test on Day 7 of his quarantine and be “let off the hook” if he tests negative, or continue to isolate himself until Day 10 without doing a PCR test before he ends quarantine provided he feels well.
“But this is just me reading the regulations over the Internet, because I’m still waiting for someone to call me up and explain this,” he said.
“My wife is testing herself with ART every evening, but we are running out of these ARTs. Very soon if we don’t receive anything, she won’t be able to test anymore. And since she’s quarantined at home, she’s not allowed to go out (to buy more).”
Similarly, Adam has not received any follow-up since he filled in a form after MOH told him he was eligible for home recovery.
“You know the infographics they put out online, right? Apparently I’m supposed to measure my temperature and do oximeter tests, and upload this information somewhere,” he said.
“But right from the get-go, no one contacted me to send me these things. No one sent me a link where I can upload these things as well. So I’ve literally been doing nothing (except monitoring my own symptoms).”
CNA has contacted MOH for comment.
ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP
Due to the lack of clarity around what to expect, 38-year-old Jing Feng (who preferred to withhold his surname) created a Telegram group called SG Quarantine Order Support Group.
Comprising around 24 members, including Jacob and Adam, the group was created last Sunday for those who were clueless about what to expect during home recovery and who weren’t receiving any instructions from the authorities.
Jing Feng’s mother tested positive and is isolating in the master bedroom with an attached toilet; his father, who tested positive at a later date, is in the guest bedroom in their five-room HDB flat. His mother’s symptoms are mild, while his father has a cough.
While Jing Feng has tested negative at the moment, he said sharing a toilet with his father increases his chances of infection.
“MOH mentioned they were sending someone (on Monday) to bring him to a quarantine facility, but nobody came,” he said.
Like several others in the group, Jing Feng doesn't have ART kits at home.
“All those under quarantine order are required to submit ART results via an MOH link daily as per the instructions from their quarantine order SMS. So everyone in the family under quarantine order needs to receive ample ART kits,” he added.
“The Certis hotline staff expedited my case for ART kits last Thursday. But I was still waiting for it by the end of Monday.”
To show their support for each other, a few members in the Telegram group are more vocal, sharing regular updates about their situation or their COVID-positive household members.
“I originally started a thread on (social discussion website) Reddit to share about my experience dealing with quarantine order, as my mum tested positive. There are a lot of delays and I can understand that MOH and Certis are badly overwhelmed,” said Jing Feng.
“I can also understand there will be many others like me who are dealing with these frustrations, be it the delays or radio silence from MOH.”
He added that some members have expressed gratitude for the group’s existence.
“(Some) have a family member who is already COVID-positive, but they may be waiting for more than 24 hours just to receive their quarantine order SMS and further instructions. The waiting makes people anxious,” he said.
“My intent (of starting the group) was just to calm everyone and let them know that they're not alone, what to expect and where to call.”