Long hours, stifling heat: Selangor doctor reveals challenges of Covid-19 testing

Healthcare workers have to don layers of protective gear to prevent the potential spread of the virus. — Picture from Facebook/ferwahn.fairis
Healthcare workers have to don layers of protective gear to prevent the potential spread of the virus. — Picture from Facebook/ferwahn.fairis

PETALING JAYA, March 12 — A Malaysian doctor has pulled back the curtain on the challenges faced by healthcare workers carrying out Covid-19 testing, including long shifts, skipped lunches, and sweltering heat.

Serdang Hospital occupational safety and health unit head Dr Ferwahn Fairis said doctors have been working 12-hour shifts from 8am to 8pm and delaying their lunch breaks due to the huge volume of persons under investigation (PUI) that need to be tested.

He also noted that the pool of staff who are trained to handle the virus screening is currently limited and it would take some time before more medical personnel can be recruited from the relevant ministries to ease their workload.

Dr Ferwahn explained that it can take up to 45 minutes to complete testing for a single patient as healthcare workers needs to don a variety of protective gear in their work.

“The workers need to change their personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, double gloves, face shields, aprons and more for EVERY patient who is screened.

“Putting on PPE also follows a predetermined sequence to prevent the personnel from touching or inhaling potential Covid-19 droplets that may be on their gear.

“This is the scenario that takes place in our screening tent every day,” wrote Dr Ferwahn on Facebook.

Temperatures inside the tent can soar up to 35 degrees Celsius as it is located outdoors. — Picture from Facebook/ferwahn.fairis
Temperatures inside the tent can soar up to 35 degrees Celsius as it is located outdoors. — Picture from Facebook/ferwahn.fairis

The Subang-born doctor also shared some photos of the screening tent, which is located outside the hospital’s emergency department instead of being indoors to prevent other patients from coming into contact with PUI and potentially sparking an outbreak.

As a result, medical personnel in the tent have to contend with the intense heat under several layers of PPE and temperatures can reach anywhere between 33 and 35 degrees Celsius.

“This means our workers are exposed to what we call ‘heat stress,’ and our management is currently scouring for a portable air conditioner to place inside the tent.

“Even then, it needs to be placed in the right spot to prevent potential Covid-19 droplets from PUI spreading to the surroundings.

“High workloads, long hours, and a working environment that is not ideal. These are the sacrifices that we have to make to look after everyone’s welfare and health.”

Dr Ferwahn says many of the doctors involved in the screening procedure have chosen to skip their lunch breaks to deal with the high volume of PUI. — Picture from Facebook/ferwahn.fairis
Dr Ferwahn says many of the doctors involved in the screening procedure have chosen to skip their lunch breaks to deal with the high volume of PUI. — Picture from Facebook/ferwahn.fairis

Dr Ferwahn said he hoped his story would encourage the public to give their cooperation to medical personnel and cheer them on as they weather the virus outbreak.

His Facebook post has garnered more than 10,000 shares at the time of writing and Malaysians have been expressing their gratitude for the hard work shown by medical staff all over the country.

“A million thanks to all healthcare workers in Malaysia. May Allah reward your efforts and ease your affairs,” wrote Shahrul Nazri in the comments.

“We salute you doctors, nurses, and front liners for your sacrifice and dedication to control and treat the virus,” said Alice Fernandez.

Malaysia currently has 149 confirmed cases of Covid-19 after 20 new individuals were diagnosed with the virus yesterday.

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