RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Across central North Carolina, emergency rooms are packed. As hospitals work to keep up with the crowds, doctors urge people not to delay seeking treatment for an emergency, but if you’re looking for a routine COVID-19 test, please look somewhere else.
Doctors who work in central North Carolina emergency departments say they’re seeing lots of people who need immediate care for all kinds of illnesses and injuries, but they’re also seeing people who aren’t sick, or who have very mild symptoms, show up to the emergency room for a COVID test.
“It certainly is causing a backlog in our emergency departments,” noted Dr. Roxie Wells, President of Cape Fear Valley Hoke Hospital. “When we are dealing with individuals who are there just for testing it makes it difficult to see those individuals who really are there for emergencies in a timely fashion.”
If someone goes to the emergency department for testing, doctors say the process likely won’t be quick.
“We have to triage people based on their level of sickness,” explained Dr. Adia Ross, Chief Medical Officer at Duke Regional Hospital. “If you come in and you are just wanting a COVID test and you are not very ill then you are going to go on the bottom of the list of people to see, so not only are you creating increased wait times for those who are really ill but you, yourself, are going to have to wait probably a long time in our ER.”
Even if you test positive for COVID, unless you’re sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, there probably isn’t much an ER doctor can do for you that a primary care or urgent care doctor can’t.
“Primary care doctors can refer you for antibody treatment for the monoclonal antibodies and get your scheduled for infusion,” noted Dr. Abhi Mehrotra, vice-chair of operations for UNC’s Department of Emergency Medicine. “There’s not much that we’re going to provide in terms of treatment for young healthy patients coming to the emergency department to get tested.”
He added that the pills that are newly authorized to treat COVID-19 are in very short supply and restricted to very high-risk patients.
All three doctors emphasized that they are not discouraging anyone from seeking emergency care if it’s needed. They are only talking about people with no symptoms or mild symptoms.
If you have shortness of breath, your oxygen level is dropping, or you feel you need emergency care, you should go to the nearest hospital.