Unless symptoms are severe, stay out of emergency room for COVID-19 test, doctors urge

With COVID-19 testing demand increasing, some people are showing up to emergency rooms to get a test. But unless you have severe symptoms, Tampa Bay Area doctors say the ER is not a community testing site.

AdventHealth Tampa said it has not seen a dramatic uptick in people going to the ER without severe symptoms, but doctors said it is still not ideal.

RELATED Hospitals ready despite uncertainty of need or COVID-19 hospitalization

“If you have mild symptoms, as does 80 percent of patients with COVID, or are just curious to see if you have COVID, this is not the place to come because we’re trying to deal with the sick,” said Dr. Doug Ross, AdventHealth Tampa chief medical officer. ”So we would refer you to a testing site, to one of the urgent care centers or your primary care doctor if you’re needing testing for some mild symptomatology around COVID-19.”

BayCare Health System treats patients needing a COVID-19 test at drive-thru testing sites and in the hospital’s emergency room. The head of the hospital system told FOX13 it’s different when a person has severe symptoms.

RELATED COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at Tropicana Field quickly reaches capacity in opening day

“I definitely sympathize with the community. When you believe you have something and there’s a lot of concern out there and fear, sometimes the place you turn to is the emergency department,” said Dr. Nishant Anand, the chief medical officer and executive vice president at BayCare Health System. “As an emergency doctor by training, I agree with that. We have to reserve that for the individuals that are really sick and need care immediately.”

To help with demand, AdventHealth Tampa expanded their emergency room area Wednesday with an air-conditioned tent for sick patients to wait for COVID-19 results.

“If we don’t have enough locations to put patients while they’re being worked up, those patients take up space in our emergency room, and we don’t have the capability of bringing more patients in and be evaluated as quickly,” Ross said.

Tampa General Hospital said doctors are seeing a sharp increase in people showing up to their Fast Track Urgent Care centers asking for COVID-19 tests. TGH sent FOX 13 a statement saying in part: “The first 25 people seen each day at these locations are guaranteed an evaluation, but not necessarily guaranteed a test."

"The decision of whether a patient receives a test is made on a case-by-case basis depending upon that patient’s individual risk, exposure, symptoms and situation. In many cases, patients are coming in and requesting tests when they are low-risk or not eligible based upon the timing of their potential exposure. If you don’t have symptoms, our experts recommend waiting at least 3-4 days before getting tested.”

And as COVID-19 cases go up, the capacity for more testing is key.

"AdventHealth has purchased five Roche rapid testing machines. The first one should have arrived in Orlando by the end of this past month. We are the second location to receive that Roche machine. The Roche machine arrives in August for us,” said Ross.

He added that it will greatly increase the volume of in-house testing the hospital be will able to do each day. “In addition to that, AdventHealth is working with several national laboratories to create contracting with them to even increase more our capability for testing.”

BayCare said they are also keeping an eye on testing capacity. Anand said they can do up to 1,000 tests in the hospital and also send out tests to other labs when needed.

Doctors said it's important to find the right place for a test based on your needs, whether it's a drive-thru site or your primary care doctor and to visit the ER if you need to for your symptoms.

“I want to make sure that people come when they’re sick, and it doesn’t matter whether they have COVID-19 or they don’t. We’ll keep them safe, away from COVID-19,” said Ross.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know

AROUND THE WORLD: CoronavirusNOW.com

Map of known COVID-19 cases:

MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map