Maryland, Virginia Hospitals Strained by COVID-19 Say Don't Go to ER for Virus Tests

In Virginia, the last day of the year brought the highest COVID-19 positivity rate the commonwealth had ever seen

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Hospital emergency rooms in Maryland and Virginia are scrambling to help rising numbers of people seriously ill with COVID-19 — and imploring people to go elsewhere for virus tests or help with mild symptoms.

University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center says it is moving to crisis standards of care, meaning it will modify surgery schedules, streamline processes and redeploy staff.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 at the La Plata, Maryland, hospital doubled between Dec. 18 and Dec. 28.

“The current demand for care is depleting our available resources, including staffing,” hospital president and CEO Noel Cervino said in a statement. “This is not a decision we made lightly.”

Wait times in the emergency room were more than four hours early on Friday morning.

Maryland has already required hospitals to pause elective surgeries and take other actions after COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a record high this week.

The Maryland Hospital Association asked Gov. Larry Hogan this week to declare a limited public health emergency to give hospitals more flexibility on Wednesday. At the time, four hospitals were in crisis standards of care.

The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association said emergency rooms are burdened.

An average of 2,101 people were hospitalized with confirmed or likely COVID-19 cases each day of the past week. The number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators has doubled in about a month.

In Virginia, the last day of the year brought the highest COVID-19 positivity rate the commonwealth had ever seen. Data as of midday Dec. 31 showed a seven-day positivity rate of more than 21%. 

An influx of people seeking care for asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 cases is adding unnecessary stress to staff and resources, the association said.

You should visit an emergency room if you have “significant difficulty breathing, intense chest pain, severe weakness, or an elevated temperature that persists for days unabated,” VHHA said.

Symptoms that can be treated at home include cough, sore throat, runny nose and body aches. You can get a COVID-19 test from your doctor, a public test site or an urgent care center.

A testing site for Fairfax County students and school staff was so slammed on Friday, before school restarts next week, that officials closed the line five hours early. People sat in their cars for hours before some were turned away.

The school district will offer testing again on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Here's where to find COVID tests in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Medline Plus, run by the National Institutes for Health, has detailed advice on when adults do need to visit the emergency room.

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