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Health professionals urge people to avoid the ER for COVID testing

Many people have turned to emergency rooms or urgent care offices as COVID tests have been hard to come by, but doctors say they shouldn't go there.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Hospital emergency rooms are just that, needed for the most urgent of medical conditions, though recently there's been an influx of people heading to ER offices for coronavirus testing.

Long lines at testing sites have been reported across the country as more people are wanting to get tested, whether for experiencing symptoms or other reasons. COVID-19 cases, largely driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant, neared an average of 500,000 daily cases this week, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Enough people heading to medical offices for COVID testing because of those extended waits prompted some health officials to urge them to look elsewhere.

"Do not come to the hospital looking to get tested," Bill Grimes, a vice president at the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center, told The Washington Post.

The outlet reports the Virginia Department of Health along with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association issued a joint statement last week asking people to avoid "unnecessary trips" to emergency departments, especially if they're dealing with COVID symptoms like a cough, sore throat, runny nose or body aches.

But more people experiencing severe symptoms, including difficulty breathing, intense chest pain, severe weakness or a high temperature should consider emergency treatment.

According to Bloomberg, CHA Everett Hospital in Massachusetts calculated that about 40 percent of its ER patients were there for a COVID test one day last week — and that's a hospital already dealing with an influx of patients.

"The emergency department is not a place for testing. It's a place you go when you have an emergency and need care in an emergency," Melanie Matney, the chief operating officer for the South Carolina Hospital Association, told WLTX-TV.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida climbed to 6,623 patients as of Jan. 4, according to the Florida Hospital Association — an increase of 1,234 patients from the day prior.

The figure remains far off from the peak seen during the delta variant surge last summer, which saw a total of 17,121 hospitalizations.

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