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Need a COVID test for mild symptoms? Don't go to the ER

Dr. Dale Criner said if that’s your situation, instead go to a care clinic or seek telehealth medicine.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — Pulling up to the emergency room is stressful enough. But a longer wait time makes matters even worse. 

With the recent surge in cases hospital ER wait times are becoming longer, according to health officials. It’s being strained more by people with mild symptoms coming to the ER to get a COVID test.

“We are just inundated with a significant number of individuals looking for a COVID test that have mild to moderate COVID symptoms,” said Dr. Dale Criner, Methodist North Hospital’s ER medical director.  

Criner says if that’s your situation, instead, go to a care clinic or seek telehealth.

At 4 pm Thursday, Baptist Memorial Hospital–Memphis’ wait time was 95 minutes. The Collierville location’s at 134 minutes.

Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown's wait, at the same time, was 2 hours and 26 minutes.

One patient waited two days until he was given a room at Methodist University. Criner said it isn’t unique to their system. 

“That is a longer wait, unfortunately, we are seeing longer waits than we would like to get patients moved from an emergency room bed to upstairs,” he said. “But that is not necessarily endemic to our system that is across the city, across the state, that’s across the nation.” 

Baptist Memorial Hospital sent a statement saying “we’ve seen a sharp increase in ER visits since Sunday” they cited Omicron and those seeking COVID tests. They added their urgent care clinics are seeing demand “10 times higher than usual.”

“This is actually a pretty significant volume compared to what we’ve seen in the past,” Criner said. “Some of our emergency departments in the past 4 or 5 days have literally doubled their normal volume.”

He said some come in and are upfront saying they need a COVID test for their job or travel. 

The medical director also added medical staffing is a struggle here like it is across the nation.

“When the system is overrun with things that really be handled safely outside of the emergency department it can delay the care of those other problems,” Criner explained. “So the heart attack, the stroke.”

The director also said this particular omicron variant tends to spike and drop much quicker than previous variants. His hope is it burns out quicker than delta. 

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