BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – A spike in COVID-19 cases is putting a strain on area emergency departments. Hospitals are seeing more and more patients as the omicron variant spreads rapidly across the state, and that’s in addition to the usual flow of patients.

Right now, UAB’s emergency department is asking people who are not experiencing an emergency to not go to the ER, that includes for COVID-19 testing and minor cases of COVID.

“This is a big burden on all health care workers. It’s hard to get folks to come in and work their best when they are just overwhelmed every single day when they come in. We’ve got, and I think all of the emergency departments, have dedicated people who are doing this lots of times out of the goodness of their hearts to make sure the public is taken care of,” said Dr. Bobby Lewis.

Dr. Lewis, UAB’s Emergency Medicine Vice Chair of Clinical Operations, said the department is running out of space and manpower, which can impact the quality of care for patients.

“Anytime you overload a system, things are going to get missed, things will happen. We can’t do the best care for that number of people. One of the problems is that we’re just out of space. Almost every emergency department that I’ve talked to is seeing patients in the rooms where we normally see them, in the hallways, in the closet if you need to. Any place you can see someone,” said Dr. Lewis.

Dr. Lewis said there are plans in place to expand care if hospitals continue to be overwhelmed.

“We have the ability and are looking into the fact that we can set up tents and do other things that will hold some of the people and be able to do treatments for those minor symptoms that are not so complicated. We’re not to the point of having to call in the National Guard or other things that some other states have seen, but if the rise keeps going, that may be a possibility,” said Dr. Lewis.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lewis is urging everyone to get vaccinated and get a booster shot if eligible.