Local Hospital Leaders Urge Public to Avoid Emergency Rooms for COVID Testing

Pharmacies, testing sites are better options so hospitals aren't unecessarily burdened

Local Hospital Leaders Urge Public to Avoid Emergency Rooms for COVID Testing

DURHAM, N.C. -- Get vaccinated against COVID-19 or you dramatically increase your risk of ending up on a ventilator and further taxing local hospitals as local cases of the virus surge.

That’s the message from chief medical officers from three Triangle health systems during a media briefing Thursday. Watch the briefing here.

Leaders from Duke, University of North Carolina and WakeMed health systems said only unvaccinated COVID patients were on ventilators in their hospitals. Dr. Chris DeRienzo, system chief medical officer and senior vice president for quality at WakeMed Health and Hospitals, added that only 1 in 10 intensive care patients are vaccinated against COVID.

“So really, the take home message is vaccination is tremendously protective against getting severely sick and needing to be intubated,” he said.

All three medical leaders urged the public to get tested at sites other than the emergency room. These include state and county sites, pharmacies and a recently opened drive-through testing site at PNC Arena in Raleigh.

Individuals who instead come to the emergency room for COVID testing cause delays in other medical procedures and put hospital staff at greater risk of catching the virus, they said. All three leaders said they are dealing with some staff shortages as a result.

“In the in the emergency department we're also limited by the fact that our inpatient census of COVID has nearly tripled in the last two weeks,” said Dr. Lisa Pickett, chief medical officer at Duke University Hospital.

Some people delayed care for emergency situations because they were afraid of coming to the hospital and potentially being exposed to COVID, said Dr. Linda Butler, chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs at UNC Rex Healthcare.

“Don't delay treatment for a stroke or heart attack. We definitely want to go ahead and have you come in,” Butler said.