Medical workers recall moment when Hai Duong Province became Covid-19 epicenter

By Thuy Quynh   February 6, 2021 | 05:00 pm PT
Medical workers recall moment when Hai Duong Province became Covid-19 epicenter
Medical workers label test samples at a lab in Hai Duong Provice. Photo courtesy of Hoang Thi Thuy.
Medical workers were "shocked and scared" to learn on January 28 that more than 70 people had contracted Covid-19 in the northern province of Hai Duong.

Thuy, head of the department of laboratory, diagnostic imaging at the Hai Duong Center for Disease Control (CDC), says: "I won't forget the moment I saw so many test samples coming back positive. I had never seen such a thing."

At 5 p.m. on January 27, the 43-year-old was about to head home when she received a call from a colleague who said Japanese health authorities had diagnosed a person from Hai Duong Province with Covid-19.

The Hai Duong CDC immediately began contact tracing and Thuy soon had a list of 14 F1 cases, or those who had been in close contact with people testing positive, all in the province's Chi Linh Town.

Nguyen Doan Tuan, a health worker in Thuy’s department quickly went to the 14 people’s houses to collect samples.

Those were the first F1 cases reported in Hai Duong when the new Covid-19 wave began.

Thuy remembers thinking at that time: "The chances of transmission are very high if just one of those 14 is infected. Everyone had to stay on high alert."

In a few hours the samples arrived. That night she and her colleagues did not sleep and were waiting for the results.

The first positive case, a 34-year-old female worker at Vietnam Poyun Electronics Co. Ltd in Chi Linh, was confirmed at 5 a.m. on the morning of January 28, and the Ministry of Health designated her patient 1552.

Before she had time to wrap her head around this, Thuy was ordered to go to the Taiwan-owned factory at 6 a.m. to take samples from all the workers here.

In two hours, she and three others took 190 samples and brought them to the CDC, which later found more than 70 were positive.

"Everyone, including me, was really shocked and scared at that time," Thuy says, explaining that they had never before seen such a big cluster of local transmissions.

Multiple cases spotted in Hai Duong also connected to the factory which later became the new coronavirus epicenter.

"Some 5,000-7,000 samples were being taken daily," Thuy says.

Medical personnel from the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Hanoi University of Public Health and Hanoi's Bach Mai Hospital came to assist on the first day.

The CDC then mobilized more personnel from the Hai Duong Medical Technical University. The students and doctors were divided into two groups for taking samples in Chi Linh and Kinh Mon towns.

The samples began to pile up rapidly as each group brought between 3,000 and 5,000 a day.

Thuy’s task as department of laboratory head was to coordinate the work flow, organize collected samples and calculate the quantity and testing capacity.

Medics classifying and numbering the samples from F1 to F4 patients.

Medics classifying and numbering Covid-19 test samples. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Health.

The department's 15 personnel were divided into two groups, with the eight technical staff testing in the lab and the rest working in the sample coding room, classifying them from F1 to F4.

Thuy says initially the number of samples was small, and the department only tested around 500 a day. But soon, following a surge in numbers, the eight people in the lab were not enough even when they worked around the clock, and the department had to mobilize another 30 workers.

Thuy says the hardest time is at 8-10 p.m., when samples arrive from various localities.

"We work through the night until dawn. Every day each worker only sleeps a total of three to four hours. Everyone has dark circles under their eyes."

After sorting, the test samples are transferred to the sample extraction room where a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test determines if a sample contains the virus.

She says Hai Duong CDC has tested around 30,000 samples since the new outbreak began late last month.

Despite working in a small crowed space, everyone coordinates well with each other to maintain a smooth work flow.

Molecular biologist Nguyen Nhan Duy, who is in charge of coordinating the entire testing unit, says upon receiving news of the outbreak, he and his colleagues flew out from Ho Chi Minh City, determined to help Hai Duong soon control the epidemic, adding that members of his group had earlier helped previous Covid-19 hotspot Da Nang.

Thuy says: "The previous outbreaks were very stressful, but this new wave has brought greater psychological pressure. This is a race against time, when he have to get sample results as fast as possible. The pressure and stress rose even higher after test results showed many had contracted the virus."

Like everyone else, Thuy only sleeps three hours a day and her department has been working nonstop. All night long, lights can be seen inside the laboratory building.

Thuy says: "We will keep trying our best. We have to work fast and tirelessly to be able to quickly stamp out this wave."

Vietnam has registered 402 domestic cases since January 28 and infections have so far spread to 12 cities and provinces, including 293 in Hai Duong and 47 in its neighbor Quang Ninh.

go to top