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Health experts: Don't go to the ER unless you're experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms

Lancaster General Health says its emergency room reached an all-time high on Jan. 3, with 428 people visiting that day.

LANCASTER, Pa. — With retail stores facing COVID-19 test shortages and urgent care wait times increasing, hospitals in central Pennsylvania are seeing a surge of people heading to emergency rooms in search of coronavirus tests. 

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health says its ER reached an all-time high on Jan. 3, with 428 people visiting that day.

“It is extremely challenging right now to be able to manage those who need acute care [and] emergency care with those that just may need testing," said Dr. Michael Ripchinski, the Chief Clinical Officer at Lancaster General Health. 

Doctors say only people experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms should go to the ER.

“If you’re beginning to experience increase in shortness of breath, chest pain [or] confusion—these are the types of things that you would’ve gone to the emergency department for any reason beyond COVID-19," said Ripchinski.

Plus, UPMC Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. John Goldman says people who do not have severe symptoms may risk infection at the hospital. 

"The worst place to go is a crowded emergency room where you’re going to wait for hours at this point if you aren’t sick," said Goldman. 

Instead, both Ripchinski and Goldman advise people call their primary care doctors.

"See if a telemedicine appointment is available, see if there’s an appointment available, see if there’s something they can handle over the phone [or] see if they can arrange a test over the phone," said Goldman.

Both doctors also say that if you start to feel sick, take Tylenol, Motrin and drink plenty of fluids. 

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