An ambulance worker of a fire station in Gyeonggi Province was dispatched on February 7 to a COVID-19 homecare patient who had trouble breathing. As there was a shortage of beds at hospitals that delayed the transfer, he had to spend 4.5 hours in an ambulance with the patient.
He returned to work after a negative self-test result. He used to get a PCR test but it is no longer available due to a change in the disease control guidelines, which left him with a self-test. He said he would feel safer to receive a more accurate PCR test as one of his colleagues had two self-tests, each of which showed a negative and positive result.
As the disease control authorities have limited PCR tests at screening stations to selected high-risk groups since February 3, ambulance workers who are frequently contacted with COVID-19 patients have been excluded. Some are concerned that there may be mass infections among essential workers due to inaccurate tests.
Under the current guidelines, people who are aged over 60, had close contact with COVID-19 patients, and had a positive rapid antigen test, as well as people who work at high-risk facilities, such as care facilities and mental hospitals, are eligible for PCR tests. Meanwhile, ambulance workers who frequently encounter COVID-19 patients to transfer those with serious symptoms to hospitals belong to the rapid antigen test group as the general public.
According to the Central Disease Control Headquarters, medical staff working at the screening stations of public health centers or COVID-19 wards can take a PCR test at the site of their workplace based on the judgment of their affiliated organization if they have suspicious symptoms. However, ambulance workers do not belong to this group either.
The disease control authorities said the decision was inevitable due to limited PCR tests. “There are practical difficulties to include ambulance workers in the priority groups,” said a member of the Central Disease Control Headquarters.
“Ambulance workers should be able to receive PCR tests like COVID-19-related medical staff within the scope of limited PCR tests,” said Professor Jung Jae-hoon of the department of preventive medicine at Gachon University. The civil servant labor union of firefighting is planning to propose to the disease control authorities to include ambulance workers in the group of high-risk facility workers who are eligible for PCR tests.