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High COVID-19 cases and new variants impact ER wait times

According to Medicare.gov, patients in many Pennsylvania emergency rooms wait between 2 to 3 hours on average.

YORK, Pa. — Daily COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly across Pennsylvania and with the introduction of the Omicron variant, doctors are struggling to keep up with the number of patients. It has caused high traffic in a number of waiting rooms statewide and has left some concerned.

“I would be uncomfortable going to any E.R. because you see waiting rooms that are full and I don’t want to be around that many people in such a close space", said Karen Johnson of York.

According to Medicare.gov, in hospitals that see more than 60,000 patients annually, the average wait time nationally is 173 minutes (approx. 3 hours).

“It’s a little too long, I don’t think one should have to wait that long," said York resident Bonnie Mangan.

Dr. Erik Kochert, who specializes in Emergency Medicine at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center( UPMC), says the extensive wait time varies, depending on the case.

"If a patient comes to the emergency room and they demand emergent services, like a person with a heart-attack, they will not wait that long," Kochert said.

Doctors said the delay is due to high demand and low supply of hospital spaces.

Dr. Kochert added that the emergency department often holds beds for patients who are in need, and the more patients they have, the fewer spaces they have for newer incoming people.

In a statement, Penn State Health said:

"During this time of extremely high patient volumes, we continue to maintain access for trauma, stroke, and heart patients in our emergency departments while periodically diverting lower acuity patients. The increase in COVID-19 patients has impacted all health care settings."

The rise in COVID-19 numbers has caused Penn Medicine Lancaster and Wellspan Health to reschedule elective and non-emergency procedures.

Doctors say only patients with life threatening symptoms should go to the emergency room while others with mild symptoms should head to urgent care centers instead.

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