“The thing about this COVID-19 disease is that it can play with your mental health. These patients in quarantine are vulnerable and physically cut off from the world,” said Royapettah Assistant Commissioner of Police MS Bhaskar. Keeping this in mind, the senior police officer decided to cheer hundreds of COVID-19 patients in Chennai city, by forming a WhatsApp group.
ACP Bhaskar created a group called ‘Officials and anti-COVID team’ on June 1, to check on patients who are put under home quarantine in his jurisdiction. “I just wanted to reach out to them and tell them that we are in this together, that help is just a WhatsApp text away,” Bhaskar tells TNM.
Senior police officers, including Mylapore Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Deshmukh Shekhar, Greater Chennai Corporation officials, sanitary workers, volunteers and corporation doctors are main members of this group. Together, they take care of 133 home-quarantined patients in Royapettah and Ice House areas, who have been added to the chat.
The idea, Bhaskar explains, is to comfort them by creating a sense of community in quarantine and meeting all their needs during the two-week period. In the process, the police are also able to monitor the patient group and sensitise them on the risks of violating quarantine and the safe practices to follow when tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
Officials and other experts on the group share facts and bust myths about COVID-19 to keep patients updated. This includes doctors’ voice notes and digital posters on how and when to take drugs such as hydroxychloroquine, antibiotics, paracetamol and zincovit (for nutrition absorption). They also advise on when to visit a hospital, how to care for aged family members in quarantine and immunity-boosting tips.
“The voice notes are in Tamil so that even patients who do not follow English can comprehend and that the group remains inclusive. Patients ask questions that are immediately answered by officials on the group,” a COVID-19 patient, who was added to the group on Tuesday, tells TNM.
This patient’s entire family, including a 90-year-old member, tested positive for coronavirus on Monday. Individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and have mild or no symptoms are asked to undergo home quarantine in Chennai.
Perhaps, most importantly, the digital community wipes away a bit of the gloom that comes with quarantine and helps patients power through the two-week period.
“There is a sharp shift from when you suspect that you have COVID-19 to when you test positive. When you test positive, there are barricades put in front of your house, a huge poster is stuck outside your door. All your contacts are notified about your condition and traced. There is a lot of anxiety for these people as well because they happened to meet you. It is stressful. And having a group that shares similar experiences can offer solace,” says the patient.
Added to this is the pressure of carrying on with chores including cooking, cleaning, sanitising touchpoints, taking care of elderly family members… all the while fighting the virus, the patient says.
To reduce this household burden on quarantined persons, especially women, the WhatsApp group’s volunteers offer to carry out errands that require stepping outdoors.
“If there is an issue with electricity or television/phone connection, internet and water supply, the patients’ routines will be disrupted. Our volunteers who receive information from the chat proceed to fix these complaints. They also do grocery shopping, paying bills and run sundry errands,” Bhaskar adds.
So far, COVID-19 patients from four containment zones in Ice House and two zones in Royapettah are members of the group. When a person completes his/her 14-day quarantine, they can exit the chat if they wish to. “Some of them exit the group right after they are added. But we request them to stick on as the information on the chat can come in handy,” Bhaskar says.
“It is the first time that I have seen the government reach out to me to offer help and it feels reassuring. Especially, the ACP’s voice notes that end by reminding us to relax during these days and be joyful. 'Don't worry, happy aa irunga' he keeps saying,” the patient adds.