COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) – According to officials, healthcare systems across the state are seeing an increase in emergency room visits amid the current COVID-19 surge.

Some of those visits are patients with serious COVID-19 symptoms, the flu, other winter viruses and injuries.

Others are coming in to get tested for COVID-19 and those visits are putting a stress on the healthcare system.

The governor, state health department, and hospitals are asking people who are looking for a COVID-19 test to refrain from coming to the emergency room.

Dr Christine Carr, an emergency physician with MUSC and the Senior Clinical Advisor for the South Carolina Hospital Association, said the spike in emergency room visits began after Christmas.

“Most were patients seeking COVID testing. The availability of COVID tests just wasn’t there and they were concerned about going back to work. They couldn’t get an at-home test and then came to the [emergency room],” she said.

She said some healthcare systems in the state saw a 20-30% increase in emergency room volume.

Dr. Carr said some of these systems are facing staffing shortages due to workers testing positive for COVID-19 themselves.

“We’re just seeing this trickle down from staff being out sick and inundated with patients who typically wouldn’t come to the ED but are coming to the ED to get tested,” she said.

To ease the burden on the state’s healthcare systems, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA) remind residents that most COVID-positive individuals with mild to moderate symptoms can safely recover at home without emergency medical attention, and anyone needing a COVID-19 test should visit a testing site or pharmacy instead of an emergency room.

General guidance for when to recover at home and when to seek emergency medical care include:

  • Call 911 or visit an emergency department: someone having difficulty breathing, intense chest pain, unexpected extreme weakness or disorientation, or a severe allergic reaction.
  • Do not call 911 or visit an emergency department: someone with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms, including a cough, sore throat, runny nose, or body aches. Instead, follow isolation protocols and treat your symptoms at home with over-the-counter medication following label instructions or call your primary care physician.
  • Do not call 911 or visit an emergency department: to get tested or receive a vaccine. Instead, use DHEC’s testing locator map and vaccine locator to find a site near you.

State health officials say they are also working to expand their testing capabilities to meet demand.