While the number of global COVID-19 cases has exceeded 30 million, the number of daily new patients in South Korea rose to 153 on Thursday after decreasing close to 100. As new mass infections have occurred in elderly care facilities, auto manufacturing plants, and churches and the share of the patients whose infection routes are unknown has surpassed 25 percent, the disease prevention authorities are becoming warier.
The noticeable blind spot of the disease control efforts was senior infections. From 916 new patients diagnosed between September 10 and Wednesday, 360 people – about four out of 10 cases – were 60 or older. The fatality rate also increases with age – less than 0.5 percent for those under 60, 1.19 percent for those in their 60s, 6.47 percent for those in their 70s, and 20.57 percent for those aged 80 or older. Among the patients aged 60 or older, about 90 percent of all cases are serious. Mass infections in elderly care facilities are the reasons behind the increasing share of patients aged 60 or older and the rising fatality rate among seniors. So far, about one-third of all COVID-19 deaths in the country have come from senior facilities.
The disease control authorities said they will carry out sample diagnosis tests for care hospitals and facilities in Seoul and the nearby region. However, it is quite belated as the concerns about the management of senior care facilities have been raised a long time ago. The new measures put forward by the government are also impractical as they do not include actions on facilities where seniors stay for only certain periods of time per day, not overnight, even though they are more vulnerable to infection than residential facilities. In addition, the potential of viral spread is still existent as caregivers are allowed to interact with senior patients even though visitors are not permitted anymore.
It took nine months for the number of global COVID-19 cases to reach 30 million since the first report of mysterious pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China to the World Health Organization. It took 44 days for the number of cases to increase from 10 million to 20 million but it only took 38 days from 20 million to 30 million cases. This indicated that COVID-19 is spreading at a faster pace, which puts senior group facilities at a greater risk. As the pattern at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis where a number of senior deaths occurred from care facilities in other advanced countries is now affecting South Korea, attention is needed to effectively prevent it.