BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Doctors at busy emergency departments in Alabama are pleading with people not to come with COVID symptoms or for testing.

Departments report a record number of patients showing up who may have symptoms, resulting in delayed care for patients with true emergency needs.

“Quite a few are. They feel like they just need to be tested. They need to know whether they have COVID or not,” said Dr. Bobby Lewis with UAB Hospital.

Hospitals like UAB and Huntsville Hospital posted messages to social media pages urging neighbors to contact a primary doctor or urgent care for testing.

“Pretty much every single emergency department is facing the same situation that we are with more patients than they can comfortably take care of in a quick manner and not being able to get patients admitted quickly and easily,” said Lewis.

COVID testing locations remain busy in Birmingham and throughout the country. Doctors say if you have symptoms of Omicron and want to get a test, to do so. Otherwise, they suggest isolating at home for the recommended 5 days.

“What we’re encouraging folks to think is if you have symptoms of COVID, assume that you have it and treat yourself just as if it is COVID,” said Lewis.

Since Omicron can cause symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat, or sinus congestion, doctors say some may not realize they have the highly-contagious variant.

“I think if you have either symptoms for the flu or COVID, I would currently stay away and do a telehealth visit and let your provider try to figure out which of the two you might have,” said Dr. Irfan Asif with UAB.

For the next few weeks, rather than in-person appointments, UAB outpatient and ambulatory clinics will offer telehealth options for people with COVID, flu, or cold symptoms.

People who have a COVID test pending or who have been in close contact with someone who is COVID positive will also have telehealth appointment options.

Those with special circumstances like chemotherapy will still be able to schedule in-person appointments.

UAB Medicine Urgent Care is also open for non-life threatening visits, but because of high demand for COVID testing, a wait is expected.

People experiencing a true medical emergency are still encouraged to come to the ER.

If you are in need of a COVID test, a list of locations in Jefferson County can be found here.