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Portland ER nurse speaks out on emergency room surge due to COVID cases

Omicron is surging and Oregon is reporting a record number of COVID-19 cases a day, but emergency rooms are seeing a surge of people with mild symptoms looking
Updated: Jan. 6, 2022 at 9:54 PM PST
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - Omicron is surging and Oregon is reporting a record number of COVID-19 cases a day, but emergency rooms are seeing a surge of people with mild symptoms looking for tests.

John Cealey is an emergency room nurse in Portland. He said his hospital is seeing more people coming in with mild symptoms who are eventually discharged, but the issue is this is overwhelming him and his colleagues who are already working understaffed.

“I understand not wanting to wait three or four days for your doctor’s office or the Expo Center but unfortunately it puts such a huge burden on our emergency department,” Cealey said.

Anecdotally, Cealey said they discharge about 80% of those coming in with COVID symptoms. Many of them are going to the ER, not knowing where to go.

“I wish I could show you a picture without breaking HIPPA of what just the waiting room looks like where it’s busting at the gills,” Cealey said.

Cealey said when emergency rooms get filled with those mild symptoms, it puts a backlog on those needing immediate emergency care.

“You have non-COVID people coming in without COVID symptoms but there’s nowhere safe to put that number of people without all of them being exposed,” Cealey said. “So in another week or two those people are potentially getting sick with COVID.”

He also said this is only adding to fatigue his colleagues are feeling trying to give adequate care to every patient who walks through the doors.

“I can’t explain in great enough detail how hard it is to continually just see large numbers of patients and just knowing there’s not much you’re able to do for them in regards in time and then that’s making people frustrated with wait times,” Cealey said.

On Wednesday, Legacy Health sent out a statement asking the public not to go to emergency rooms looking for COVID-19 testing. They, too, cited their staff being overwhelmed with patients. Cealey didn’t disclose which hospital he works for but he said the conversation on how to treat COVID-19 needs to change.

“Omicron, it’s going to make you nauseous. It’s not going to make you feel well. You’re going to be tired,” Cealey said. “So the things to mitigate that are just the simple remedies that sometimes when you’re sick and nervous about COVID forget. Such as Tylenol, water, and just getting plenty of rest.”

If more people understand how to treat mild symptoms of COVID-19 and know when to go get lifesaving care, Cealey said this will help ease the strain on health care workers.

“Saying not to come to the hospital is not kind of innate to us if you don’t feel good,” Cealey said. “But I think we do need to have a better conversation of what to do with your symptoms and if you go over this tipping point, whatever that tipping point may be. That’s when you come into the emergency department and see us. "