People trying to find COVID tests are 'clogging up' Bay Area emergency rooms, doctors say

The ABC7 News I-Team confirmed the problem is is occurring in hospital systems across every Bay Area county.

Stephanie Sierra Image
Friday, January 14, 2022
Need a COVID test? Doctors say don't go to the ER
A UCSF doctor explains that because people are struggling to find rapid tests, they are swarming to the ER to get tested, creating longer wait times.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Emergency rooms across the Bay Area are overwhelmed with people trying to get a COVID test, and it's causing longer wait times to triage patients in need of imminent care.

"Everyone is feeling mentally and physically exhausted," said Dr. Maria Raven, UCSF's Chief of Emergency Medicine. "We've seen more patients with COVID during the past three weeks to a month than any other time over the past two years."

Raven says ambulance traffic across the city has increased by 20 percent in the past week.

"Every time I'm in the city there are basically ambulance rigs lined up with patients waiting to be triaged," she said.

RELATED: From SF to Napa, here's why Bay Area hospitals are experiencing overwhelming staffing shortages

As Raven and her team are already pressed thin with eight nurses out sick as of Wednesday, her emergency department faces another challenge--people lining up to get COVID tests.

"We don't have space for them in our emergency room or even in the waiting room," she said.

"How long has that been happening?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked.

"For about three to four weeks... because no one can find a rapid test anywhere."

The ABC7 News I-Team confirmed the problem is occurring in hospital systems across every Bay Area county. It's even causing a backlog triaging patients at San Mateo County General Hospital.

VIDEO: US hospitals strained with influx of patients amid latest COVID surge, staffing shortages

Hospitalizations among children are on the rise, while under 70% of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated.

"It's a real problem," said Dr. Shruti Dhapodkar, the county's health emergency preparedness manager.

"Are you finding patients in need of care are having to wait to get help because of this?" Sierra asked.

"Yes, it's taking a longer amount of time," Dhapodkar said. "Delayed, but not significantly, yet."

San Mateo County Health told ABC7 News on average, emergency departments across the county usually care for 500 patients per day, but now that figure is up to 750 patients per day.

RELATED: Stanford hospital sees record number of kids on oxygen

"That's a significant surge for our emergency department," said Dhapodkar. "So, it's a problem when patients that need emergency surgery or emergency care get stuck in the triage line."

COVID tests are tough to come by these days, but there are some sites that do the searching for you. Zoolert tracks inventory of COVID tests online and in stores.