COVID-19 Stock

RICHMOND (AP) — State health officials in Virginia are urging people who have mild coronavirus symptoms to avoid unnecessary trips to hospital emergency rooms.

Thursday’s request by the Virginia Department of Health is being made at a time when the state is entering its fifth coronavirus surge since the pandemic began.

On Thursday, Sentara RMH Medical Center announced on its Facebook page that effective immediately, visitors were no longer allowed in its emergency department with the exception of patients with an “altered mental status” or “behavioral health concerns.” Those patients are allowed one visitor. Also exempt are minors under the age of 18 and critically ill or critically injured patients, who are allowed one visitor.

State health officials say they’ve documented more than 50,000 new infections since Friday. At the same time, daily COVID-19 hospitalizations jumped from 922 on Dec. 1 to 2,100 on Thursday. That’s a 128% increase.

Health officials said hospitals are already feeling the strain of the latest surge. And a hospital visit isn’t the appropriate place to go for someone who has contracted the coronavirus and has mild or moderate symptoms, the officials said. Most people can recover from home or reach out to their primary care doctor.

The Virginia Department of Health added that the peak of the current surge may not arrive until several weeks after the holiday season ends. That means the surge’s impact on the healthcare system is likely yet to be fully felt.

On Wednesday, Sentara RMH Medical Center pleaded with residents in the city and county to get vaccinated to reduce the “longer wait times than normal” the hospital and other emergency departments in the area are dealing with.

“Sentara RMH Medical Center is calling on all eligible residents to take all precautionary measures available against COVID-19 to stop the community spread,” the release said. “As the community is facing increased cases brought on by the Omicron variant, Sentara Healthcare is asking those eligible who have not yet been fully vaccinated to do so today.”

More than 280 local residents have died from the virus — 116 people who lived in Harrisonburg and 181 who lived in Rockingham County, according to VDH data.

Valley Health on Wednesday urged caution heading into the holiday weekend after announcing that the system’s six hospitals are currently treating 145 patients for COVID-19, about 85% of whom are unvaccinated.

Staff Writers Jim Sacco and Ian Munro contributed to this report.

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