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Central, South Coast ER's crowded because of people worried about minor COVID-19 symptoms

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Many emergency rooms on the Central and South Coasts report they are being flooded during the current COVID-19 surge, but many people showing up have only minor symptoms and don't need ER care.

Doctors say people who don't need emergency care are showing up at ER's anyway over virus concerns.

The big COVID-19 surge is flooding hospital emergency rooms on the Central and South Coasts with patients.

"ERs are all essentially at max capacity across the county," said Dr. Jeff Davies, the Co-Medical Director for Emergency Rooms at Dignity Health’s St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, and St. John’s Hospital in Camarillo.

He says the situation has affected all eight hospitals in Ventura County. ERs are so busy, if you are being taken to a hospital in the county in an ambulance, you can’t choose which one.

"All hospitals have been on essentially diversion since December 29th," said Dr. Davies. "What that means is they aren't taking patients from different areas if they would elect to go to a certain hospital."

But, the situation isn’t exactly what you might think. Many of those filling Ventura County’s ERs really don’t need to be there. Dr. Davies says around 20% of patients have minor symptoms, but got to hospitals because they are worried about the surge.

"People are scared. They hear these horror stories, and they think their sore throat is going to turn into certain disaster," said Dr. Davies.

But, if you have minor symptoms, health experts say the answer isn’t the emergency room, but your bedroom.

"Definitely stay home, and monitor the symptoms, and not expose others," said Ventura County Public Health Director Dr. Rigoberto Vargas..

He says you should also line up a COVID-19 test, which may take a little work with demand so high. Doctors are also recommending that if you haven’t done it yet, get a booster shot.

Dr. Davies admits he thinks the new few weeks will be rough.

"I'm actually pretty nervous, because we're not just seeing this with the patient population, we're seeing it with staff," said Dr. Davis. "I think it's probably going to get worse here for the next few weeks," he said. "We're not quite in the crisis mode, but we're in the contingency mode."

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.