South Korea has been recognized internationally for the effectiveness of its response to the novel coronavirus pandemic and impact of the COVID-19 disease. As the number of cases continue to rise in the US, what lessons can America take from South Korea?
Drive-through testing: Korea created a highly efficient system of drive-through COVID-19 test centers that have helped the nation of 51 million perform fast and extensive testing. With a capacity to test up to 15,000 patients daily, the expansive testing is credited with reducing the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in South Korea. According to data compiled from official sources by the Our World in Data website (https://ourworldindata.org/) Korea had performed 248,647 COVID-19 tests as of March 12. This is second only to the estimated 320,000 tests conducted in China. In contrast, the United States had conducted only 13,624 tests. Korea is testing at a rate of 4,813 tests per million people, which is second only to Bahrain. The US is testing at a rate of only 42 tests per million people, one of the lowest among advanced economies.
The drive-through test takes only 10 minutes and results are texted to the patient, usually the next day. Testing is free of charge, paid for by the Korean government.
Drive-through testing is more convenient, faster and safer for both patients and medical personnel than indoor testing. While most testing in the US is still currently being done at a doctor’s office or in a hospital, Washington state, New York, Connecticut and Colorado have all adopted some form of drive-through testing. As commercial testing firms like Quest and LabCorp ramp up testing capability in the US, the use of free, drive-through testing should be widely implemented on a national scale.
Open communication between government and health officials: Korea’s government has reduced public anxiety and increased trust in how the country is dealing with the situation by making information public and easily accessible. For example, the status of COVID-19 cases is posted daily to the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website (http://www.cdc.go.kr/). Korea’s new cases have gradually declined since peaking at 909 new cases on 29 February. KCDC results for March 15 showed a new low of 76 cases.
The government is also providing data on the availability of protective masks sold through commercial channels based on public-private cooperation between the Ministry of Health and Welfare and small and medium companies.
Innovative use of technology: Using government data, including from the KCDC website, commercial companies created websites and cell phone apps that plot the locations where people infected with COVID-19 have been, to make avoiding these areas easier. One app will push a warning notification to a user’s cell phone if they come within 100 meters of a place where a person carrying the virus has been. Korea recently announced that a new program starting on March 16 will leverage various “Smart City” technologies to provide data on confirmed COVID-19 patients’ past movements. The data will be provided to health authorities for immediate analysis.
Korea’s combination of fast, free drive-through testing, open communication between the public and government officials and health agencies, and innovative uses of technology provides a blueprint that America can follow to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases and save lives in the United States.
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Paula Park is the President of the Korean American Community Association of Greater Washington, a non-profit organization to promote the interests of more than 200,000 Korean Americans in the Greater Washington area (District of Columbia, Maryland, Northern Virginia). -- Ed.