Specifically, chief medical officers for UNC, Duke, and WakeMed asked that people who are experiencing mild or no symptoms and seeking a COVID-19 test, to get tested at any of the available testing sites and avoid waiting in hospital emergency departments to get swabbed.
"If you have symptoms then absolutely seek the right place for care," said Dr. Chris DeRienzo, Chief Medical Officer for WakeMed. "But if you're coming, for example, because you tested positive and now you're trying to seek another test to see if you're testing negative if you're coming for just exposure testing because you got a positive exposure and you're completely asymptomatic- those are real stories- the emergency department is not the best place for you."
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DeRienzo said over the last week, five percent of patients turning up in WakeMed's already overcrowded emergency departments were asymptomatic and there only to receive a COVID test.
Dr. Linda Butler with UNC Rex and Duke University Hospital's Dr. Lisa Pickett described similar scenarios in their emergency departments.
"If you are just there for a COVID test, then the best place to go would be one of the testing centers," said Butler. "You are then going to be competing with all of the in-patients for the same lab resource so it may delay testing for in-patients."
Pickett and Butler said their ICUs are at capacity. At the same time, about two to three percent of their staff at hospitals across the three systems are currently out due to either testing positive for COVID or having a confirmed exposure, exacerbating delays in care.
Most critically ill patients are unvaccinated against COVID-19. Moreover, Dr. Pickett said those on ECMO, which is the highest level of support for the illest patients, are all unvaccinated against the virus.
Pickett said in addition to choosing the most appropriate place for a COVID-19 test, the best way to help alleviate the pressure on hospitals amid this latest surge is to go get your shot.
"The best approach that we can recommend is 100 percent if you have not been vaccinated, get vaccinated. It's free. It's available. And it is the best protection from hospitalization and critical care needs," said Pickett.