Troubling Influx of Patients with COVID-19 Symptoms Crowding Area Emergency Rooms

Hospital emergency rooms are inundated with patients with symptoms of COVID-19, a situation that has prompted a plea from Brevard County health officials and emergency services for residents to consider other options before taxing ambulance services with non-emergency calls and showing up at the ER for a COVID test when other test sites are available.

All three hospital systems in the County are over capacity and continue to deal with a strong surge in patients, said Brevard County Emergency Director John Scott. Hospitals have implemented surge plans that include cancellation of elective surgeries, and converting regular space into COVID-19 space and negative pressure rooms. Also of concern, Scott said, are that hospital emergency rooms are seeing comparable surges in patients with COVID-19 symptoms, though not all of those visiting the ER have an emergency situation. That creates safety concerns for real emergencies, such as traffic accident-related trauma patients, heart attack victims or others needing emergency treatment.

Scott said it’s important that residents and visitors to Brevard County increase their vigilance and “return to what we know helps slow the spread when it comes to COVID, which is wearing face coverings, good hand hygiene, practicing social distancing when possible and, of course, we know we have a solution to this– which is our vaccine, and we encourage people to get as much good information that’s out there and make sure they know where to get them.”

Unvaccinated residents ages 12 and older should consider getting a COVID-19 vaccine, which is also available through a personal physician, pharmacy or retail outlet, and urgent cares. Scott said it’s also important that people looking to be tested for COVID-19 symptoms do so, not at an ER, but at an urgent care, pharmacy or through their own personal physicians.

“It is imperative that we pull together, we get through this and slow this curve to relieve the stress on our hospital system and our healthcare system so we can take care of everyone who gets sick,” Scott said.

The DOH has testing sites listed at https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/testing-sites/. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents wear a mask indoors in public, and continue to practice social distancing, hand washing, and cover coughs and sneezes.

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Some delays and backlogs are being encountered where testing is available. At some locations, appointments are necessary. Others have seen long lines or are requesting patients to wait in their vehicles until notified to come inside for a test.

“(Testing) is still widely available in our community, but like anything as the numbers go up so too does the demand for testing,” Scott said. “We know it’s available at urgent care centers, Walgreen’s, CVS, some medical diagnostic centers, and there are some at-home versions that can purchased at various retail outlets. A lot of primary care physicians are also offering tests. We always encourage folks to go to their primary physician anytime they have a question about their health, but I also want to caution folks that just because you want a COVID-19 test doesn’t mean you should go to the emergency room. That’s the exact opposite of what you should be doing. Go to Walgreen’s, go to CVS, contact your primary care physician or go to an urgent care, but also be patient. We are working with suppliers. Tests continue to come in, and the demand is up.”

Brevard County Fire Rescue Chief Mark Schollmeyer, said his department has seen an increase in COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 symptomatic patients over the last several weeks that equals, if not exceeds, the height of the pandemic in 2020.

“Subsequently our BCFR ambulances are seeing an increase in hospital times due to not being able to turn patients over to hospital staff,” he said, referring to ERs filled with patients suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. “We continue to ask that people use 9-1-1 sparingly for non-emergent issues and to save the ambulances and ER trips for those who urgently need those services. Just being COVID positive but asymptomatic does not always make it a life-threatening emergent condition requiring a trip to the ER. We ask people to take advantage of your primary care physician, telemedicine or urgent care and leave emergency room and ambulance trips for those with life threatening or serious emergencies.”

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