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Mild coronavirus cases may not need trip to hospital emergency room

As the Omicron variant spreads and COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge, Virginia public health officials and hospitals leaders are urging people with asymptomatic or mild coronavirus cases, or other non-serious illnesses, to avoid unnecessary trips to already burdened hospital emergency departments.

According to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA), hospitals across Virginia have recently experienced an influx of patients seeking emergency department care for asymptomatic or relatively mild COVID-19 infections as well as cases of the flu or other seasonal illness.

Steve Arner, Carilion Clinic Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer and the Chair of the VHHA Board of Directors., said, “Virginia’s caregivers have worked nonstop to serve their communities throughout this pandemic.  It’s crucial for community members to seek the appropriate level of care, ensuring that emergency rooms are reserved for emergencies. Of course, the best support that you can give is to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.”

Julian Walker, VHHA vice president, said that most people who contract coronavirus do not need to visit the hospital emergency department and can effectively recover from their illness at home, or by seeking primary care treatment and/or speaking with their primary care provider, Walker added.

People with severe COVID-19 symptoms such as significant difficulty breathing, intense chest pain, severe weakness, or an elevated temperature that persists for days unabated are among those who should consider seeking emergency medical care for their condition, said Walker.

People should not visit the emergency department if the symptoms of their illness are mild to moderate – including a cough, sore throat, runny nose, or body aches – or simply for the purpose of having a COVID-19 test administered. In those situations,  consult an outpatient primary care provider, he added.

Unnecessary visits to hospital emergency departments place great strain on hospitals and the frontline clinicians and caregivers who continue to bravely battle the pandemic. These visits can also cause a delay in care for patients experiencing a true medical crisis and contribute to the depletion of finite resources including medical staff, testing kits, personal protective equipment, and therapeutic treatments.

“More than 15,000 Virginians have died from COVID-19 during the course of this pandemic, and thousands have been hospitalized,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “The best defense against serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. If you have not gotten vaccinated or boosted and are eligible, please do so now. Do it for yourself, your family, and your community, including the health care workers we depend on to be there when we truly need emergency care.”

According to the VHHA, Virginia is in the midst of a fifth coronavirus surge since the pandemic began last year. The peak of this latest surge may not arrive until several weeks after the holiday season concludes, making it likely that its true impact on public health and the health care delivery system is yet to be fully felt, Walker said.

Data continues to show that the majority of patients currently hospitalized in Virginia for COVID-19 care are unvaccinated, he added.

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