Unvaxxed are bulk of Virginia COVID hospitalizations; people with mild symptoms told to avoid ERs

VHHA: 'Virginia is in the midst of a fifth coronavirus surge'
emergency hospital sign
Posted at 1:12 PM, Dec 30, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- People with mild to moderate COVID symptoms as well as those with other non-serious illnesses are being urged to avoid going to Virginia hospital emergency rooms as the state grapples with a fifth coronavirus surge, Virginia health department and hospital systems officials said Thursday.

The plea comes as the highly-contagious omicron variant is causing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to surge. In fact, Virginia reported its second straight day of record-high cases Thursday and officials said hospitalizations in the state have climbed nearly 130% from 922 on Dec. 1 to 2,101 as of Dec. 30.

"For general testing needs, please do not go to the emergency room or burden the hospitals any more than they really are. They are ready to serve those that have severe illnesses. So we definitely need to preserve that," Suzzie Trotter, the COVID-19 testing co-lead with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) said.

Trotter said the agency is working with area health departments to increase the number of testing events.

Officials warned that the surge's peak may not come until several weeks after the holiday season.

"Hospitals across Virginia have recently experienced an influx of patients seeking emergency department care for asymptomatic or relatively mild COVID-19 infections as well as cases of the flu or other seasonal illness," Julian Walker with the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) said.

IN-DEPTH: County-by-county look at COVID-19 cases in Virginia; which areas saw biggest spikes Thursday

COVID-19 hospital nurse

Doctor's group wants Northam to reissue state of emergency

Most people with COVID do not need to visit the ER and can recover at home, or by seeing their doctor, according to VHHA officials. Those people may have symptoms like cough, sore throat, runny nose, or body aches.

However, officials stressed that people with severe COVID-19 symptoms like difficulty breathing, intense chest pain, severe weakness, or an elevated temperature that persists for days unabated should seek emergency medical care.

Moreover, officials said people should not go to the ER "simply for the purpose of having a COVID-19 test" since those "place great strain on hospitals and the frontline clinicians and caregivers who continue to bravely battle the pandemic."

"These visits can also cause a delay in care for patients experiencing a true medical crisis and contribute to the depletion of finite resources including medical staff, testing kits, personal protective equipment, and therapeutic treatments," Walker said.

In fact, Dr. Todd Parker, the president-elect of the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians (VACEP), said he saw people that put off care they needed because they were afraid of COVID or worried about overburdening the system.

"And the downstream effects of that were terrible with people having serious health conditions that could have been taken care of had they been seen sooner," Parker warned.

As a result, the group called on the state to provide more help, including asking for Gov. Ralph Northam to reinstate a state of emergency.

Parker said that would allow hospitals "some options that aren't normally allowed."

While Parker said the group supports the VDH/VHHA statement, he said they wanted to issue their own since they do not want people to be afraid to come to the ER because of what happened early on in the pandemic.

Officials with Northam's office referred to the governor's comments Wednesday encouraging people to get vaccinated and only to visit the ER if necessary. A spokesperson also said that hospitalizations are lower than they were during the last spike driven by the delta variant.

The governor's office said they have just received the state of emergency request and are in the process of reviewing it.

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Virus Outbreak Pfizer Vaccine
In this March 2021 photo provided by Pfizer, vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared for packaging at the company’s facility in Puurs, Belgium. Pfizer is about to seek U.S. authorization for a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, saying Thursday, July 8, 2021, that another shot within 12 months could dramatically boost immunity and maybe help ward off the latest worrisome coronavirus mutant. (Pfizer via AP)

Vaccination is key to avoiding hospitalization, officials say

Health officials stressed that while Virginia's has seen two straight days of record high COVID case counts, hospitalizations remain below the peak of 3,201 on Jan. 13, 2021.

"That is thanks in part to the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines," officials said. "Data continues to show that the majority of patients currently hospitalized in Virginia for COVID-19 care are unvaccinated."

In fact, for the week of Dec. 18, the VDH reported 72 vaccinated people were hospitalized for COVID. That week the VHHA reported Dec. 19 that roughly 1,400 patients were in the hospital with COVID. So the unvaccinated accounted for roughly 95% of Virginia's COVID hospitalizations.

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Virginia enters 5th COVID surge, VHHA says

State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver called getting vaccinated "the best defense against serious illness and hospitalization from COVID."

"If you have not gotten vaccinated or boosted and are eligible, please do so now," Oliver pleaded. "Do it for yourself, your family, and your community, including the health care workers we depend on to be there when we truly need emergency care."

As a result, officials with Virginia hospital systems continued to urge the unvaccinated to get the shot and those who have been vaccinated to get boosted.

"The available vaccines offer strong protection against illness from COVID-19," VHHA officials stressed. "And for those who contract a breakthrough case of the virus after being vaccinated, the vaccine reduces the risk of serious illness that leads to hospitalization or death."

Carilion Clinic CEO/Executive Vice President and VHHA Board of Directors Chair Steve Arner said caregivers have worked without a break to serve their communities during the pandemic.

"They are feeling the strain of yet another surge and are looking to the community for support,” Arner said. “It’s crucial for community members to seek the appropriate level of care, ensuring that emergency rooms are reserved for emergencies. Of course, the best support that you can give is to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.”

More than 15,000 Virginians have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the VDH. More than 78,000 people who were hospitalized with COVID have been discharged, according to the VHHA.

COVID-19 in Virginia:13,500 new cases reported Thursday, Dec. 30

Mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Richmond Raceway.

Appointments are encouraged at Community Vaccination Centers to avoid extended wait times, but officials said that walk-ins are welcome.

Virginians age 5+ are eligible for COVID-19 vaccine. Pre-registration is no longer required,so go to Vaccine Finderto search for specific vaccines available near you or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-275-8343).

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Have You Been Fully Vaccinated?

People are considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
  • 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine
What you can and should not do once you have been fully vaccinated.

How to Protect Yourself and Others When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick. Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.

We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. After you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions—like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces—in public places until we know more.

These recommendations can help you make decisions about daily activities after you are fully vaccinated. They are not intended for healthcare settings.

Click here for more information from the Virginia Department of Health.