PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Officials at Riverside Health System say the new omicron coronavirus variant is taxing emergency medicine just as trauma and other serious cases are on the rise during the holiday season.

“We are seeing large increases in emergency medicine volume in all our hospitals and many of those people have only mild symptoms,” said Dr. Michael Dacey, president and chief operating officer for Riverside Health System.

To ease the burden on emergency rooms, doctors at Riverside say if you suspect you have COVID-19, don’t report to the emergency room for a test.

“You have to use good judgment; talk to your primary care doctor. Obviously, if you are sick, we want you to come to the emergency department. But if you are coming to get tested — we are seeing that quite a bit — that really prevents the doctors from seeing the more ill patients,” said Dacey.

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At-home test kits are hard to find but the vaccination clinic at Military Circle Mall in Norfolk offers free testing on Mondays. Additionally, state and local groups are offering a wide variety of testing and vaccination clinics across the region.

Dr. Gary Kavit, chairman of Emergency and Trauma Services at Riverside Regional Medical Center, says if you test positive for the coronavirus, be aware of the usual symptoms.

Sleeping woman. (Credit: Getty Images)

“So, not all patients that have COVID-19 need to come to the emergency department for evaluation. Many patients that have just nasal congestion, sore throat, and loss of taste or smell — those [symptoms] are expected… But those patients who are having shortness of breath, severe weakness when walking a short distance in their house, those are the patients that should be coming to the hospital for evaluation,” said Kavit.

Doctors at Riverside continue to urge the unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves for the free, effective, and safe coronavirus vaccine. Dacey says most patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

According to The New York Times, over the past eight months — with vaccines widely available — nearly a quarter-million people have died from COVID-19. The report states the virus is responsible for a higher share of deaths for all causes for younger Americans and white Americans.

Data from 25 states shows the death rate for the unvaccinated is 14 times as high as that for the vaccinated, according to the report.