Life at the Singapore Expo: A COVID-19 patient shares his experience in a community isolation facility
SINGAPORE: The conditions are functional, the rooms are basic, but COVID-19 patient Matthew's resolve is stronger than ever - he hopes to return home to his family as soon as possible.
Matthew, a 24-year-old student who asked that his full name not be used, has been transferred around a number of locations - from a ward at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) to the D'Resort NTUC Community Facility. Now he is one of the patients currently being housed at a new community isolation facility at the Singapore Expo & MAX Atria.
This facility at the Expo has been operational since Friday (Apr 10), the Ministry of Health (MOH) said last week. And Matthew was one of the first few patients to set foot in it.
"I didn't know what to expect but I wasn't exactly looking forward to it," said Matthew, who had been told of his transfer from NCID to the Expo on Apr 10. "But I'm quite an okay person (dealing with these things) - so as long as it was liveable, I was fine with it."
Later that evening, Matthew, along with a number of other patients, was transported to the Expo. He was not told why he was chosen to be transferred there.
Seeing the size of the hall and the number of rooms it held drove home the message how many people were affected by the virus, a stark contrast to the days of relative isolation at D'Resort and NCID, said Matthew, who had returned from his studies in the UK on Mar 20.
He had developed symptoms on Mar 24 before being warded at NCID the following day. He was later transferred to D'Resort but was readmitted to NCID for tests after exhibiting symptoms such as a cough and chest discomfort.
"I was very shocked to see that there was such a facility that was built and could hold so many people," he explained. "It's one thing to see the pictures, but when I saw it in real life, I was still very shocked."
Upon arriving, Matthew and the patients were first briefed, before being given a pack containing items such as toiletries, towels, a water bottle and snacks.
Having previously stayed in the relatively luxurious D'Resort, where his room had a balcony as well as a toilet shared between him and a roommate, this was a big change of environment that Matthew had to get used to.
"With the balcony at D'Resort, I could get some sunlight and fresh air, I think that was the biggest difference," he said. "There's also no doors (for the rooms), just curtains (in their place). So, it's a totally different feeling ... You just have to make do with it."
The Expo community care facility will initially have one hall catering to about 480 patients, Health Minister Mr Gan Kim Yong said speaking at a press briefing last Thursday.
It will "progressively expand" as the demand goes up and number of cases increase, he added. The first of such facilities was initially set up in D’Resort in Pasir Ris, which can take in about 500 people.
The facility at the Singapore Expo will house two types of patients – recovering patients and "early patients".
Recovering patients, Mr Gan said, are the ones who have been to hospital and have "more or less recovered" from the infection, but may still have the virus in them.
Early patients comprise confirmed COVID-19 cases who are mostly "quite well", Mr Gan explained.
Some of these patients will be sent directly to community care facilities without having to go to the hospital first. That is because they do not need extensive medical treatment and can recover in isolation.
The daily routine at the Expo facility is simple and communal. The lights go off by 11.30pm and come on before 7.30am, said Matthew.
"I was honestly expecting that the sleeping area would be a bit more comfortable," he admitted. "But I'm used to it (now). Sleeping is not an issue for me - but I've been told that I'm a heavy sleeper and I can sleep quite easily."
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Meals are distributed at a collection point three times a day and while patients have to queue for their food, it takes about five minutes to reach the front of the queue, he added.
"The queues move very fast, everything is already packaged and it's the same so we can just grab and go," he explained.
Patients at the Expo facility are able to choose between different types of food, with the standard comparable to what was served at D'Resort, added Matthew. Patients get to choose between different types of cuisines such as Halal, Western, Chinese and Vegetarian food.
"The food is decent," he said. "Honestly, I've also lost my sense of taste and smell and I'm only just getting it back ... The quality of food is around the same as D'Resort."
While the toilets are shared among users, they have been kept extremely clean, said Matthew. "It's really, really clean, I think they clean it at least twice a day," he explained. Cubicles on the second floor of the hall have also been repurposed into shower facilities.
While patients are allowed to move within the hall freely, most choose to stay in their rooms, he said. There is also a medical facility for patients should they wish to seek help.
A plus of staying at the Expo has been the quick Wi-Fi, said Matthew, and this was not so much the case at D'Resort. For now, he spends most of his time chatting with friends, surfing the net and watching shows on Netflix.
For now, most of the rooms remain empty, Matthew said. A number are occupied by foreign workers, while all the patients in this particular hall seem to be men, he added.
"It's still not super crowded yet, but I can feel that every day there are more people coming in," he explained. "On the first day it was really empty, but now it's starting to get filled up slowly."
Matthew's next swab test will be on Tuesday (Apr 14). Should that and his next test be negative, he will be discharged. And having spent 20 days in the hospital and the various community isolation facilities, he is looking forward to finally being able to leave.
"That is all that I'm hoping for right now," he said. "I'm really really determined to get out. But that's dependent on my body, and not up to me."