Editorial: Health officials urge people not to go to hospital ERs for COVID testing, unless they need they 'urgent medical attention'

As the omicron COVID-19 variant sweeps through the world, health officials are concerned they will see a repeat of this this fall when people infected with the delta variant clogged emergency rooms and stretched hospitals to their breaking points.

As of Wednesday, Hamilton Medical Center had 30 patients hospitalized with COVID -- 23 (77%) were unvaccinated. Of those COVID patients, seven (all unvaccinated) were in the intensive care unit and four (all unvaccinated) were on ventilators.

That's a far cry from this past fall when the hospital had 78 COVID patients (91% unvaccinated); 17 of those were in the ICU (94% unvaccinated); and 15 were on ventilators (93% unvaccinated).

Health officials are once again stressing the importance of vaccinations, which are free and available at county health departments and pharmacies. In public settings, health officials are urging people to wear a mask, physically distance and wash your hands frequently with soap and water.

The Georgia Department of Public Health this week also asked people looking to get tested for COVID not go to hospital emergency rooms unless they need "urgent medical attention."

"To help keep hospital emergency departments open to treat medical emergencies, individuals seeking COVID testing should not go to hospital emergency departments, unless they are experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms requiring urgent medical attention," according to the state Department of Public Health. "Asymptomatic individuals or individuals with mild symptoms should find testing sites other than hospital emergency departments."

COVID testing locations are available throughout Georgia and can be found on the Department of Public Health's website at dph.georgia.gov/covidtesting.

"We are working with our lab partners to expand testing hours and add testing sites, however, lines will continue to be long as thousands of Georgians want to get tested," according to the Department of Public Health.

To help lessen delays at testing sites, "it is critical that people register before going" to a Department of Public Health test site. "Online registration (https://dph.georgia.gov/covidtesting) will help alleviate back-ups at test sites and free up staff to do more testing if they aren't doing registration paperwork," according to the Department of Public Health.

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