Don’t go to the ER for COVID testing — do this instead

By The Health News Team | January 12, 2022
Mother and daughter getting tested for COVID-19

San Diego emergency rooms are overwhelmed. They are filled with people who have severe illness caused by COVID-19, those experiencing other serious illnesses, individuals who are injured, and people who are simply seeking a COVID-19 test. However, emergency rooms are not meant to serve as COVID testing sites.

According to experts, local hospitals are striving to manage the current surge of COVID-related illness due to the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant and ongoing delta variant-related illness while also coping with a surge of people seeking COVID tests.

“While we are prepared to care for those with emergency medical needs, we are experiencing some staffing and supply shortages due to the recent surge,” says Josh McCabe, director of emergency services at Sharp Memorial Hospital. “We encourage anyone who is without COVID symptoms or experiencing mild symptoms to look to other testing sources throughout the county, rather than heading to their local ER.”

In doing so, McCabe says, you are likely saving yourself time, preventing your own exposure to illness, freeing up resources for those who are experiencing medical emergencies, and giving local care providers the gift of time and energy they need to care for those most in need.

5 things to consider before heading to an ER:

  1. Due to limited test supplies, local emergency rooms and most urgent care centers can only test people with significant COVID-19 symptoms and those at risk for serious illness, including people with underlying medical conditions (including pregnancy) and those age 65 and older and their caregivers.

  2. While COVID-19 tests are free, you are responsible for the cost of any ER or urgent care visit. County COVID testing sites provide free testing and do not require a visit fee.

  3. If you do not have COVID symptoms, have not had an exposure, or are under age 65 with no underlying health issues, you can visit a County of San Diego testing location or consult other community resources, such as, for testing options instead. At-home tests may be available online or in stores. A positive at-home test should be assumed to be accurate and does not need to be confirmed with a test at a medical facility or COVID-19 testing site.

  4. If you need to be tested due to a confirmed exposure, contact your primary care doctor or visit one of the options offered by community and health care partners to be tested sooner. If your primary care provider orders a COVID-19 test, you will receive instructions on where to go. In some cases, you will be instructed to self-test and follow CDC quarantine and isolation guidelines while you wait for — and after receiving — your test results.

  5. Some school districts are offering free COVID-19 testing sites for students, teachers and staff. Check with your district for specific testing site details or learn about testing options for the San Diego Unified School District.

Have symptoms? Assume you have COVID.
If you are between ages 16 to 64 and experiencing mild symptoms, assume you have COVID-19 and take all necessary precautions. You can most likely find relief for your symptoms with the use of over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers, along with lots of rest and hydration.

Monitor your symptoms and call your doctor if symptoms worsen. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you are having trouble breathing or persistent pain or pressure in your chest, are unable to stay awake, have bluish face or lips, or are experiencing confusion.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccination, testing and care resources.

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