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Crucial role of temporary airborne infection isolation rooms in an intensive care unit: containing the COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea
Critical Care volume 24, Article number: 238 (2020)
From 20 February through 9 March 2020, South Korea reported the highest number of patients confirmed with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outside China, mainly in the Daegu city area: this was a disease cluster related to the practices of the Shincheonjii religious group [1,2,3]. In Daegu city, the number of patients with COVID-19 increased rapidly and saturated the healthcare system; as a result, some critically ill patients were unable to obtain hospital care and as a result died of this disease. Care for critically ill COVID-19 patients requires intensive care units (ICUs) that are equipped with airborne infection isolation rooms (AIIRs) [4, 5]. To cope with this situation, we assembled temporary AIIRs with mobile negative-air machines in our ICU, as was done previously in Korea during the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak . Here, we share our experiences with the assembly of temporary AIIRs in the ICU of our single 635-bed tertiary care, academic hospital and discuss the critical role played by these units toward controlling this explosive outbreak. We hope that our findings will serve as a reference for areas where the COVID-19 outbreak remains ongoing.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Daegu had only three AIIRs with anteroom in an ICU of one national university hospital; these were built with government support after the 2015 MERS outbreak. The tertiary hospitals in Daegu facilitated the isolation and treatment severely ill patients via temporarily remodeling of existing ICU facilities. Prior to the outbreak, our hospital operated two separate ICU facilities; each was equipped with two AIIRs without anterooms. This was not sufficient for isolation of COVID-19 patients nor did this provide appropriate protection for healthcare workers (HCWs). We decided to remodel one of the two ICUs to facilitate isolation of critically ill COVID-19 patients. Schematic view of the renovated ICU was illustrated in Fig. 1. Critically ill COVID-19 patients were transported to the temporary negative pressure isolation ICU in negative pressure carts that utilized an exclusive path and elevator maintained for this purpose by staff members wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. The COVID-19 team included 5 physicians and 40 nurses. All HCWs in our newly remodeled ICU were screened for COVID-19 via the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction test after the first 2 weeks on duty; no tests were reported as positive.
Approximately 60% of the COVID-19 patients at our hospital had severe pneumonia (respiratory rate > 30 breaths/min, severe respiratory distress, or SpO2 ≤ 93% on room air). Before the AIIRs in the ICU opened in our hospital, we had no choice but to treat these patients in preexisting AIIRs located with the general hospital ward. Upon completion of this renovation, we were able to hospitalize all critically ill COVID-19 patients and to provide timely and appropriate management and support. Our newly renovated temporary AIIRs have been in operation for 4 weeks. During this time, we treated seven patients: six patients have required mechanical ventilation, two patients were treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and continuous renal replacement therapy has been provided to one patient. We believe that the urgently renovated ICU played an important role in preventing the surge of mortality despite the rapid increasing number of patients with severe pneumonia (Fig. 2).
In conclusion, our experience suggests that renovation of our ICUs to include temporary AIIRs was a critical and highly effective measure that permitted us to react appropriately to the explosive outbreak of COVID-19 and to provide optimal care for severely ill patients. We hope that our experience will help to prepare physicians and hospitals worldwide for the unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Availability of data and materials
The data are available from the corresponding author.
Coronavirus disease 2019
Intensive care unit
Airborne infection isolation rooms
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome
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We appreciate the devoted administrative support of Jin Ho Sohn, the president of Kyungpook National University Chilgok Hospital, and Gyu-Seog Choi, the director of Clinical Services. We also appreciate the contributions and dedication of all members of the hospital facility engineering team and the ICU team.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
This study was exempt from the review by Institutional Review Board of the Kyungpook National University Chilgok Hospital (KNUCH 2020-04-001).
Consent for publication
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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Lee, S.Y., Choi, S.H., Park, J.E. et al. Crucial role of temporary airborne infection isolation rooms in an intensive care unit: containing the COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea. Crit Care 24, 238 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13054-020-02944-0