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The COVID-19 surge is overwhelming emergency rooms across Virginia

VCU Emergency hospital entrance in Richmond.
VCU Emergency hospital entrance in Richmond.(Parker Michels-Boyce / For The Virginia Mercury)
Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 3:56 PM EDT
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Over the last few weeks, hospital systems across Virginia have been sounding alarms over the latest coronavirus surge, largely driven by the highly infectious delta variant.

In Southwest Virginia, Ballad Health is facing its “worst-case scenario” with more than 700 COVID-19 patients. In Northern Virginia, hospitals already nearing capacity with COVID-19 cases have been overwhelmed by recently arrived Afghan refugees. And on Thursday, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association issued a statement on behalf of more than three dozen medical groups, pleading for unvaccinated Virginians to get their shots.

“In just two months, hospitalizations have increased by 1,008 percent and new cases have jumped by 1,217 percent,” it read. “With hospital inpatient and ICU beds already filling ahead of a looming fall surge, it is imperative for unvaccinated Virginians to do their part to help save lives and slow the spread of this deadly virus by getting vaccinated.”

Nowhere has the latest spike in cases been more obvious than in Virginia’s beleaguered emergency rooms, where unvaccinated and often seriously ill COVID-19 patients are adding stress to an already maxed-out system. Dr. Todd Parker, president-elect of the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, said almost every hospital across the state is struggling with overcrowding, widespread staffing shortages and difficulty transferring patients — who frequently require higher levels of care — to facilities experiencing the exact same challenges.

The ongoing surge is sending ripple effects across Virginia’s medical system. On Sunday, Carilion said it set up a tent outside the emergency department at the New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg, expanding its waiting area as visits continue to swell. And the crush of patients isn’t unique to Southwest Virginia. Across the state, emergency medicine physicians are reporting an ER “safety net” on the brink of crisis.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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