Virginia emergency doctors want COVID-related state of emergency

Coronavirus Virginia
Coronavirus Virginia(Associated Press)
Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 2:37 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ/VACEP Release) - As the Omicron variant spreads and COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge, Virginia’s emergency departments report being overwhelmed with patients. The Virginia College of Emergency Physicians (VACEP) is calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to declare another State of Emergency to provide relief to emergency departments statewide.

As of July 1, 2021, the previous State of Emergency declared in response to COVID-19 expired and all Executive Orders imposing COVID-19 restrictions ended. Emergency departments, according to VACEP, “are considered a safety net for those patients in need of care, regardless of insurance status, and are federally mandated and morally obligated to provide care to all those who seek it. However, Virginia’s emergency medicine system is under threat of collapse due to excessive patient volume.”

VACEP says declaring a State of Emergency would:

· Allow the Commonwealth to provide disaster funding and access federal dollars to support the response and increase staffing levels

· Allow emergency departments and hospitals to enact protocols to more efficiently evaluate or treat patients (such as using telehealth or providing care outside the walls of an ED)

· Help emergency departments allocate scarce resources more appropriately

A contributor to emergency department volumes is the lack of access to COVID-19 testing and care at other sites, such as primary care offices and urgent care clinics, according to VACEP, which is encouraging the Virginia Department of Health to establish more COVID-19 testing sites to ease the volume of patients seeking testing in emergency departments.

“There has been significant discussion in the last few years by health plans and legislators over what they deem ‘avoidable ER visits.’ What the current COVID crisis continues to show is that once again emergency departments and emergency providers act as the safety net for a fractured healthcare system that has significant socioeconomic disparities in access to quality health care. As always, if you are in need of care, the emergency department will never turn down any person who needs evaluation, treatment, or hospitalization, regardless of ability to pay,” said Todd Parker, President-Elect of the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, which represents all emergency physicians statewide. “However, understand that ERs use a triage system and are going to see patients most in need of care first — so if you have mild symptoms or a less acute condition, you will likely have a longer wait. And due to limited COVID-19 testing availability, if your case appears mild and you do not fall into a high-risk category, you may not qualify for an in-hospital test. The majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations are from unvaccinated patients. As to those patients coming to emergency departments with COVID-19 requiring admission to the hospital, many of these visits and most hospitalizations could have been avoided if vaccinated.”

When asked for a reaction from the governor’s office, a spokesperson referred to Northam’s Wednesday statement saying despite increasing numbers, there is no reason to panic. The spokesperson also said, “Please remember that every time the Governor has spoken about COVID over the past year, he has encouraged people to get vaccinated. That’s the best way to defeat the virus. I would also point out that... hospitalizations are still lower today than the last spike when delta appeared.”

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