This morning I tried to answer a simple question — if you’re in South Korea and you test positive for the coronavirus, what happens? After all, knowing you have the virus doesn’t do any good if you don’t take some action!
The WHO’s strategy involving testing is this: test, isolate and trace new cases to suppress the spread of the virus.
Testing has two goals then: isolating infected people and tracing who these infected people might have interacted with. Let’s begin with tracing.
As usual, it’s difficult to find news you can totally believe in but this Reuters story seems credible.
Seoul says it is building on lessons learned from an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2015 and working to make as much information available as possible to the public. It has embarked on a massive testing program, including people who have very mild illness, or perhaps don’t even have symptoms, but who may be able to infect others.
This includes enforcing a law that grants the government wide authority to access data: CCTV footage, GPS tracking data from phones and cars, credit card transactions, immigration entry information, and other personal details of people confirmed to have an infectious disease. The authorities can then make some of this public, so anyone who may have been exposed can get themselves – or their friends and family members – tested.
In the United States, I think we can safely say for the moment that Americans would not tolerate this behavior from our government. We may be wrong about that and it may cost a number of us our lives but there we are. Even a relatively simple step of publishing the names of people who have tested positive is something we can not abide.
Now the South Korean government has tracked you down. What happens next?
People found positive are placed in self-quarantine and monitored remotely through a smartphone app, or checked regularly in telephone calls, until a hospital bed becomes available. When a bed is available, an ambulance picks the person up and takes the patient to a hospital with air-sealed isolation rooms. All of this, including hospitalization, is free of charge.
Maybe we’ll get to this point but the sight of an ambulance rolling up and taking away an individual is a really scary image. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be the medics either because some people are going to find being forcibly removed from their homes as somewhat intrusive and may react . . . er, uh . . . by using their Second Amendment rights. The good news is that it’s free!
We’re faced in this country with trying to find ways to “isolate” and “trace” that also maintain personal rights. This is in conflict with what you really need which is the elimination of all personal rights to allow the government to test you, find you, and then remove you from the population.
There are other good reasons to test, by the way, including giving the patient a definitive diagnosis and tracking where the greatest need is in the country so resources can be directed in that direction. This is a bit “in theory” since even having a diagnosis doesn’t affect the course of treatment (at the moment) and we’re not very good at instantaneously moving resources from A to B and then to C –which is why Governor Cuomo wants to have his stockpile ready.
When you hear that South Korea is doing so well with testing, just understand that testing only is useful if you isolate and trace. The cure here may well be worse than the disease!