Virginia health leaders urge individuals with mild coronavirus cases to avoid trips to emergency rooms

The following is a joint statement from Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association:

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

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. In many cases, a hospital emergency department is not the appropriate venue for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms to seek medical care. Most individuals 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. 

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. Individuals 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, people are encouraged to instead consult an outpatient primary care provider.

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.” 

“Virginia’s caregivers have worked nonstop to serve their communities throughout this pandemic. They are feeling the strain of yet another surge and are looking to the community for support,” said Steve Arner, Carilion Clinic Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer and the Chair of the VHHA Board of Directors. “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.” 

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. 

Infections have spiked this month – the Commonwealth recently eclipsed 1 million total COVID-19 cases and has documented 51,564 new infections since Dec. 24. Meanwhile, daily COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen from 922 on Dec. 1 to 2,101 as of today (Dec. 30), a 128 percent increase in that time. 

While these numbers are elevated, they remain below the peak hospitalization numbers Virginia encountered this time last year. That is thanks in part to the widespread availability of COVID- 19 vaccines. Data continues to show that the majority of patients currently hospitalized in Virginia for COVID-19 care are unvaccinated. 

That is among the reasons why the health care community continues to urge unvaccinated individuals to make a plan to get the vaccine and to get boosted. U.S. adults 18 and older are eligible to receive a two-dose course of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine has also been approved for use in children ages 5-12 and adolescents up to age 17. Adults 18 and older are also eligible to receive a single dose of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

The available vaccines offer strong protection against illness from COVID-19. And for those who contract a breakthrough case of the virus after being vaccinated, the vaccine reduces the risk of serious illness that leads to hospitalization or death. Please visit vaccinate.virginia.gov, call 1- 877-VAX-IN-VA, or visit vaccines.gov to learn more about getting vaccinated. At Community 

Vaccination Centers, appointments are strongly encouraged to avoid extended wait times, but walk-ins are welcome. 

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