COVID-19 SPECIAL

Coronavirus: Precautions stepped up for workers, volunteers at Expo facility

Screen dividers, staggered mealtimes among new measures at community care facility

At the Singapore Expo community care facility, Resorts World Sentosa has set up screen dividers at all dining tables and work stations. It has also implemented a strict segregation of volunteer teams, ensuring that each volunteer eats alone and at st
At the Singapore Expo community care facility, Resorts World Sentosa has set up screen dividers at all dining tables and work stations. It has also implemented a strict segregation of volunteer teams, ensuring that each volunteer eats alone and at staggered times instead of in groups. PHOTO: RESORTS WORLD SINGAPORE

Volunteers eating at the Singapore Expo community care facility (CCF) will now be separated by a clear screen, one of many protective measures put in place in response to infections emerging at the facility.

Four healthcare workers and volunteers have been infected by the coronavirus as of last Thursday - the largest number at any CCF.

While healthcare workers and volunteers from organisations such as Parkway Pantai, SingHealth, the Singapore Armed Forces and Woodlands Health Campus look after the medical needs of patients, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) is the facility's managing agent.

RWS handles much of the day-to-day administrative work, while 2,100 staff volunteer in non-medical roles such as cleaning, meal management, and admitting and discharging patients.

All 10 halls in Singapore Expo have been converted for CCF use, with a total capacity of 8,000 beds.

RWS told The Straits Times it has boosted protective measures, including setting up screen dividers at all dining tables and work stations.

It has also implemented a strict segregation of teams to specific work and rest areas, ensuring that each volunteer eats alone and at staggered times instead of in groups.

Volunteers have been assigned to conduct checks to ensure other volunteers practise safe distancing at all times.

An RWS spokesman said: "RWS volunteers man a 24/7 operations command centre at the CCF that includes incident and event tracking, CCTV (closed-circuit television) and surveillance monitoring, and a call centre to handle resident inquiries."

RWS said its staff are especially suited to the role, given that they have plenty of experience managing the many facets of an integrated resort - from housekeeping to meals, surveillance and monitoring.

Volunteer Kevin Singh, RWS' acting director of operations for hotels, said: "While we have expertise in handling large-scale facilities operations, there were a few challenges at the start, as this involves managing a large-scale medical facility taking care of early symptoms or in-recovery Covid-19 patients."

Mr Singh, 46, manages the overall day-to-day operations of the halls where patients are housed. He said the biggest concern is ensuring volunteers adhere to safety protocols.

Each volunteer received training from infection control specialists from Parkway Pantai and Woodlands Health Campus before starting work. The training included the wearing and de-gowning of personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes N95 masks, face shields and gloves, that volunteers have to wear.

Volunteer Michaela Yang, 25, said: "We work for four hours at a time. Just being in PPE is challenging - it gets very hot, and with the N95 mask, our voices are quite muffled, so we need to communicate clearly."

Ms Yang, a marketing and events executive, added that this was especially important when speaking to patients as many of them are foreign workers and not fluent in English.

However, Mr Singh said that while there were challenges, seeing patients get discharged and knowing that his team had a part to play in helping them recover is a great source of motivation. "We always do non-contact high fives all round whenever a resident is discharged."

But the need to be careful extends beyond the volunteers' working hours at the CCF.

Ms Yang added that she now tries to self-isolate as much as she can, even in her own home. "I wear a surgical mask in all common areas and maintain a 1m social distance from my flatmates."

And while it is natural to worry, she said, her work at the CCF has been a bright spot during the circuit breaker period. "I'm especially happy when I get to process the discharge of residents - as we lead them to the exit of the facility, we get to wish them well and tell them to take care of themselves. It's almost like witnessing a graduation."

Ms Yang's grandparents are retired nurses, and her grandmother was a front-liner during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003. Her grandparents supported her decision to volunteer.

Ms Yang added that the feeling of being able to help is great, "knowing that we are playing a part in the national and global effort to fight this pandemic".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Precautions stepped up for workers, volunteers at Expo facility. Subscribe