Officials at Legacy Salmon Creek and PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center have a request: Don’t visit the emergency room if you have mild COVID-19 symptoms or if you need a walk-in COVID-19 test.
Emergency departments are seeing a drastic increase in patients due to the omicron variant spreading widely throughout the community. However, many patients are arriving with mild or no symptoms, or they’re looking for COVID-19 tests.
Testing positive for COVID-19 can be an overwhelming experience, and guidelines about what to do can be confusing. To compound the issue, COVID-19 tests are hard to come by. But hospital officials are asking that people with COVID-19 refrain from visiting the emergency room unless they are displaying symptoms that are cause for concern.
What are those symptoms?
According to Dr. Dan Bissell, Legacy Health medical director of emergency services and a practicing physician at Salmon Creek, if you’re having significant difficulty breathing, noticing shortness of breath, coughing out of control, vomiting, having chest pain, or feeling like your condition is rapidly worsening, then you should visit an emergency room right away.
Without those symptoms, Bissell recommend people visit their primary care doctor or an urgent care facility.
Walk-in testing is not available at either PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center or Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center. People in need of testing should visit doh.wa.gov to find testing options in their area.
Legacy Health launched a COVID-19 symptom tracker last week to help people make the appropriate decision about when to seek medical care. The tracker was designed in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It asks a series of questions and then provides guidance based on responses. It can be found at www.legacyhealth.org.
The surge in emergency room visits is causing an increase in wait times, according to Bissell. Everyone who visits an emergency room is evaluated as soon as possible, but because of the high volume of patients, people with mild symptoms will likely have to wait a long time for treatment.
“We’re working as hard and fast as we can to accommodate surges in volume,” Bissell said. “Wait times are increasing, but we’re maintaining safe care for all conditions. But our resources are stretched thin.”
Bissell said he understands that testing positive for COVID-19 can be a stressful experience, and that he recognizes that guidelines can be confusing, especially when tests are not readily available.
“It’s hard as a patient, and there’s understandable concern when anybody gets a positive COVID-19 test,” he said. “We don’t want to discourage people from coming to the ER. We’re just wanting to provide some guidance on when you should come to the ER.”
He suggested that people who are unsure use the new Legacy Health COVID-19 symptom tracker. They can also visit doh.wa.gov for additional guidance.
Emergency room staff are also getting sick from exposure outside of the emergency room, Bissell said, causing staffing shortages and longer wait times.
“Our teams are stretched thin,” Bissell said. “We’re tired. Each of these surges is a tremendous challenge. But this isn’t our first surge, we’re getting pretty good at this.
“The good news is we now know more about omicron,” he continued. “Especially among those who are vaccinated, we are seeing mostly mild symptoms. However, some people do get sicker. The No. 1 thing you can do to prevent getting sick is to get vaccinated. If you’re not vaccinated, it’s not too late. And if you should get sick, it will reduce your symptoms. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your community.”