AUSTIN (KXAN) — As many struggle to find COVID-19 testing in Austin, local hospitals are asking people not to go to the emergency room for a test.
“We urge the public to reserve our emergency rooms for medical emergencies,” St. David’s HealthCare wrote in an Instagram post. It comes as one in three COVID-19 tests in Travis County are coming back positive and as case counts skyrocket.
Hospitals and local leaders said people showing up to test for COVID-19 at emergency rooms is contributing to staffing shortages.
“People are having trouble finding testing or rapid tests at the stores, so they are going to our ER’s and getting tested, and then when they’re there, many of them have pneumonia. And so they’re getting filled with pneumonia patients both on the hospital floors and also the ICUs,” explained Dr. Guadalupe Zamora, a longtime Austin-area physician.
Dr. Zamora is treating patients outdoors if they show COVID-19 symptoms. Just before Christmas, he was seeing one or two outside a day. This week, that changed.
“I saw 37 patients myself and a third of them were positives,” Dr. Zamora explained. “We’re going to exhaust our staff there at the hospital. We may end up, as Dr. Desmar Walkes already said, we may need to go to a transitional center for treatment.”
Hospitalizations are up 40% since Jan. 1 in Texas. Nearly 1,800 of those patients are adults in the ICU — that is a 22% increase since the beginning of the year.
“What the hospitals are talking to us mostly about, with respect to staffing, are the number of people that are showing up in emergency rooms to get asymptomatic testing,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday. “They’re really asking the public not to go to a hospital to get an asymptomatic test.”
Health leaders have also said the price of a test in emergency rooms could possibly be significant. Testing at other sites is free of charge regardless of insurance.