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The Center for COVID Control in Northeast Portland. (KATU)

Amid surge, doctors say don't seek COVID tests, nonemergency care at emergency rooms

With a daily average of almost 7,000 new cases in Oregon last week, local hospitals are already overcrowding with patients.

Doctors are now pleading with people to not go to the emergency room for sicknesses that can be easily treated at home.

But when dealing with a deadly disease, that decision doesn't come easily.

Doctors are also asking people to not come into the emergency room with unnecessary requests. Right now, that includes COVID tests.

"I don’t feel well. I just want to lay in bed," said Millz Poland, looking to get a COVID test at the Center for COVID Control in Northeast Portland. "I was exposed, on the 6th or the 7th, and I do have symptoms -- fatigue, body ache, headache, joint pain, and some congestion.”

"I just had a mild fever," said Levi Ansteet, another person seeking a test at the center. "I'm not showing any other symptoms other than just that."

For people in Northeast Portland desperate for a COVID test, center is one of the few spots you can still get in.

"The number has definitely gone up, dramatically, in the last few weeks. "I’ve seen from 300 to 700 a day," said Jesse Nealy, who runs testing at the Center for COVID Control. "Most of the people have a pretty good cough, along with a runny nose."

But while a test can narrow down what you have, it can't tell you when that sickness is becoming serious.

For local hospitals that are seeing a surge in patients, it's a delicate balance.

"Things that go beyond the normal cold symptoms of sore throat and body aches, those are things that we want people to check in with their primary care physician about," said Dr. Mary Tanski, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at OHSU.

Doctors want people to recover at home whenever possible to try to help overwhelmed and short-staffed emergency rooms.

But there are some symptoms you don't wait on.

"If you just feel like you’re a little bit short of breath, maybe you have time to reach out to your clinic or your provider," said Dr. Ann Loeffler, deputy health officer at Multnomah County. "But if you are struggling to breathe, you’re going to be heading to the emergency room and even potentially calling 911.

Doctors said this doesn't mean you should be "overly tough" on yourself. If you really don't feel well and you're on the fence, they will be there to see you. It's better to be safe than sorry.