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Whole family gets COVID-19 while waiting at home for treatment places amid Osaka surge

This supplied electron micrograph shows the new coronavirus that was first identified in central China's Wuhan city. (Photo courtesy of Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases)

OSAKA -- With the rapid spread of coronavirus infections in Osaka Prefecture, the number of patients having to stay home to recover or wait for hospital treatment is surging. A woman whose entire family got infected recently spoke with the Mainichi Shimbun about her struggle to find a hospital bed for her husband, whose condition deteriorated while recovering at home.

    As of April 29, more than 14,000 patients in the western Japan prefecture are recovering at home; they include people waiting for hospitalization or looking for places to recuperate. It has also been confirmed that since March 1, 12 of the patients had died while recovering at home or waiting to be treated.

    One woman in her 50s who was infected along with all three other members of her family spoke of how even though her husband's condition worsened while they recovered at home, "nothing was done until his symptoms got much worse."

    She lives in Osaka Prefecture with her husband, also in his 50s, and their son and daughter, both in their 20s. Her son developed a fever and tested positive for the coronavirus on April 4. Though she requested he recover at a designated hotel, the local public health center told her: "It will take one to three days to make the necessary adjustments."

    Her son quarantined in a room on the second floor of their home, and when her husband tested positive on April 6, he also began staying in it. On April 9, her daughter was also found to have the coronavirus.

    After the infections were discovered, each family member wore two masks at home, and to avoid direct contact she would leave meals for her son and husband in the hallway. She said with a disappointed look, "Every time someone used the toilet, I would go as far as disinfecting the hallway. But still we all got infected."

    Her son and daughter began recovering at a hotel in the city of Osaka on April 11 and 14, respectively. The woman also developed a headache, and on April 15 found out she had contracted the virus.

    Her husband developed a fever on April 7, which rose to over 39.5 degrees Celsius. Every day she called the public health center to check if he could be admitted for recovery at a designated facility, but the center told her, "All the patients are having a tough time, so please wait your turn." Her husband's fever did not subside, and on April 16 his blood's oxygen saturation level was 90-91% when she checked it with a pulse oximeter delivered from the health center a day previously.

    The health center's instruction manual says patients with 93% or lower saturation have highly urgent symptoms. She called them, but an official said, "He will have nowhere to go even if you call an ambulance. It's better to get medical treatment at a hotel when his turn comes than it is to wait for hospital admission." Her husband was eventually moved to a hotel.

    But his condition continued to worsen, and he was hospitalized on April 17, 11 days after testing positive. His lungs looked completely white in X-rays. He is still in hospital now; the severity of his pneumonia means he can't be without an oxygen inhaler.

    She can't help thinking that if her family members had been given access to medical treatment and prompt hospital admission, the infection might not have spread to them all. She said, "Recovering at home was equivalent to being neglected and told 'wait until you get better.'"

    (Japanese original by Hirokage Tabata, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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