Hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, reaching numbers Delaware hasn’t seen since February. Urgent care centers are taking on the overflow and reaching their limit, as well.
Dr. Jack Horowitz, medical director at Newark 24/7 Urgent Care Center, said they are seeing more than 200 patients a day, which they are not intended to. Wait times have increased drastically, too. Pre-pandemic, Dr. Horowitz said, they could typically have patients in and out in 30 minutes. Now, wait times average anywhere from two to four hours.
The urgent care center in Newark has a long stretch of barrier tape outside the building for the line of patients that forms almost every morning, most of them looking to get a COVID-19 test.
“They come in, more or less, under false pretenses, because urgent care is not a testing site,” Dr. Horowitz said. “We see sick patients, but they know they can get a test here so they often say that they have an illness just so they can get their test.”
Dr. Horowitz said every patient must be examined and have their vitals taken, so those who come in for just a COVID-19 test are overwhelming the system. He encourages patients to go online and look for testing sites if they are asymptomatic and only come to urgent care if they are truly sick.
“If they don’t have symptoms, we turn them away,” Dr. Horowitz said. “We just don’t have the capacity. But they’ll get back in line and say they’ve got a cough. So it’s an abuse of the system.”
Dr. Horowitz said that, every so often, staff will pick out people from the line who have a more urgent need for care, such as the elderly or small children.
He added that any COVID-19 patients he sees who are vaccinated are “overwhelmingly healthy” and he can confidently tell vaccinated patients they will not get much sicker, be hospitalized or die. For unvaccinated patients, he cannot make that same promise.
ChristianaCare’s Christiana Hospital runs their emergency department similarly. A spokesperson for the medical facility said there are several determinants to a patient’s wait time, including factors such as triage and case acuity.
The spokesperson said Christiana Hospital has one of the busiest emergency departments in the entire country — they have over 100,000 visits per year, which is in the top 25 nationwide. However, by law, they are never allowed to turn anyone away. He added that the large majority of patients in ChristianaCare’s hospitals who have COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
Sharon Kurfuerst, ChristianaCare chief operating officer, said that health systems cannot handle the spike in hospitalizations indefinitely.
“This combination of high volume and high acuity is unprecedented — and deeply concerning,” she said in a statement. “We must rein in and defeat this pandemic, and the only way to do that is through vaccination.”
Michael Metzing, vice president of Corporate Support Services at Bayhealth, said most of their COVID-19 patients are also unvaccinated. He added that Bayhealth does not offer asymptomatic testing at its emergency department and patients looking for a test should go online to the state's website for information on testing sites.
“Emergency departments here in Delaware and across the country are all experiencing increased wait times,” Mr. Metzing said in an email. “This is a result of more people seeking care while all health systems are also experiencing staffing challenges. All emergency departments treat patients based on their acuity — meaning we treat the sickest patients first. Unfortunately, you may experience longer wait times than usual in the emergency department or other areas of the hospital.”
Mr. Metzing said the volume increase in emergency departments is not only due to surging COVID-19 cases, but patients putting off care during the pandemic.
“Now we are seeing patients with higher levels of acuity around a variety of issues including heart and vascular conditions and orthopaedic injuries, just to name a few,” he said.
A statement from ChristianaCare-GoHealth Urgent Care encouraged all patients to get vaccinated, saying that the delta variant and spread among unvaccinated people is driving the current rise in COVID-19 patients.
“(The spread of cases) is creating significant increases in the number of people seeking care throughout the health system, including urgent care,” the statement said. “Right now, visits for testing or care related to COVID-19 are adding to the visits we see for urgent care. As we are currently seeing this increase, wait times may be higher than usual.”
Several urgent care centers, including Newark 24/7 Urgent Care Center, are encouraging virtual visits. Appointments can be made on their websites.