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Omahans seeking COVID tests are gumming up hospital ERs

Omahans seeking COVID tests are gumming up hospital ERs

Nebraska's COVID surge is continuing, with cases nearly doubling over the past two weeks. The increase in cases over that time ranks fifth highest in the nation.

Local health care officials are asking people to stop heading to the emergency room for COVID-19 tests if they have mild symptoms or no symptoms of the disease.

People seeking COVID tests are causing backlogs at some emergency rooms at hospitals in the CHI Health system, officials said.

Up to 30% of patients at Mercy Hospital in Council Bluffs last week were seeking COVID tests, and many had minimal if any symptoms, said Denise McNitt, vice president of patient care. The backlog of patients seeking COVID testing, especially if they’re without symptoms, could lead to a delay in care for patients with more urgent needs.

Methodist Health System is seeing similar backups, a hospital spokeswoman said. Rooms in the emergency department where suspected COVID-19 patients have been evaluated must be thoroughly cleaned before being used again, which adds to wait times.

Officials at the Nebraska Medical Center said the emergency room has handled people seeking COVID tests, but a fast-track process has helped to eliminate any backlog.

McNitt, with CHI Health, said getting tested for COVID is critical. But people have many testing options outside of emergency rooms.

“We don’t want to discourage people from coming to the emergency room who are in need of urgent, emergent care,” she said. “But there are many options right now that are very accessible to the community.”

Several testing options are available across the Omaha metro area. Many local pharmacies such as Kohll’s, Walgreens and CVS offer testing. Information can be found on the Douglas County Health Department’s website.

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