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Knoxville hospitals ask people with mild symptoms to visit COVID-19 testing location before emergency room

Several hospitals across Knoxville said they were struggling to handle an influx of patients with fewer workers to provide care.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Several hospitals serving the Knoxville area and East Tennessee released a statement urging people to be patient with workers as they continue managing an influx of patients.

The statement was from Blount Memorial Hospital, Covenant Health, the Sweetwater Hospital Association, Tennova Healthcare, and the University of Tennessee Medical Center. In it, they said the COVID-19 Omicron variant is racing through East Tennessee, spreading easily from person to person and increasing hospitalizations in the area.

Alongside the rise in COVID-19 cases, healthcare workers also said they are seeing several patients with respiratory illnesses like influenza, RSV, pneumonia, and long-term COVID-19 complications. They are also seeing patients arrive for critical needs, dealing with heart attacks, strokes, and other emergency situations.

"Our emergency departments are overflowing with these cases and other medical emergencies, leading to longer-than-usual wait times as we work to deliver care to all who are counting on us," the statement says.

The Knox County Health Department reported a record 14,630 active COVID-19 cases and rising on Wednesday. Over 6,700 new cases were reported in Knox County in the last week, the most ever. In Knox County, there are more people sick than ever before. Nearly 1 in 2 people who get tested, have COVID.

It also reminds people that health care workers are not immune to viruses, and many of them are absent because of illnesses. Fewer health care workers are available to provide care, they said, and they need the community's help to continue providing care to sick people.

They said people should not postpone regular screenings and appointments, and if they have a serious injury or life-threatening illness they should immediately go to the emergency room.

But they said people who have mild COVID-19 symptoms or who are asymptomatic should visit a community testing location before going to the emergency room.

They also said people should always wash their hands and wear a mask to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. They also said people should get vaccinated and boosted to protect against COVID-19.

"As they have done at heroic levels since the beginning of the pandemic, our teams are continuing to work diligently and selflessly to care for our communities," the statement says. "We are here for you when you need us. We ask for your patience and kindness to our health care workers and to one another during these challenging times."