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Hampton Roads hospital leaders report record-high COVID-19 patients, urge caution before next wave

In a warning to community members, Sentara Healthcare leaders say they are seeing some of the highest number of COVID-19 in-patients and emergency room visits.

NORFOLK, Va. — "We are seeing unprecedented levels of admission from COVID, or with COVID, than we have ever seen before," said Sentara Healthcare's Chief Physician Executive, Dr. Jordan Asher, in a teleconference Thursday afternoon.

The urgent warning from Sentara leaders came as they said they watched the number of COVID-19 patients across Virginia and North Carolina locations triple, over a period of 10 days.

According to Sentara's COVID-19 hospitalization dashboard, Hampton Roads hospitals have treated more than 300 patients Wednesday afternoon. Dr. Asher said he expects to see the number go up over the next two weeks.

"If the numbers keep going up as they are, which everyone is predicting for the next couple of weeks, they're going to be much much higher than our previous weeks," he said.

Asher said the omicron variant is fueling the speed at which infections are spreading, which is also impacting many of the fully vaccinated healthcare workers.

"Just like the community, yes, people are getting sick and not able to work," Asher explained. He said this is another reason why the community needs to take the surge of COVID-19 cases seriously.

Riverside Health System told 13News Now it is seeing a similar trend on the Peninsula. Its president, Dr. Mike Dacey, said the latest report (as of Jan. 6) showed 119 COVID-19 inpatients. 

Dacey said a majority of the patients were unvaccinated.

"We have noticed a developing trend showing that a growing minority of patients are only diagnosed with COVID-19 incidentally, immediately after being admitted for another medical problem as they noted mild COVID-like symptoms; emphasizing the growing prevalence of Omicron across the region," Dacey said. "Given this, we encourage everyone to get fully vaccinated, including boosters, in order to protect themselves, their loved ones and the community."

Dacey and Asher both spoke about the importance of knowing when the best time is to visit the emergency departments. Both said their hospital's emergency rooms were filling up with people who have either zero to mild symptoms, looking to get a COVID-19 test.

"Our emergency rooms are busier than they've ever been in history," Asher said.

He said if you are just looking to get a test, but you're having trouble finding one, it's better to stay home and follow the CDC isolation guidelines as you wait to get a test. He said this would give relief to emergency departments.

However, Dacey said if you are experiencing shortness of breath or severe weakness while walking a short distance, you should visit your nearest hospital.

Asher and Dacey said the hospitals were not turning away any patients, but urged everyone to get vaccinated and mask up to help fight these growing numbers.

Chesapeake Regional Healthcare also sent the following statement to 13News Now:

"Like other hospitals in the area, due to the Omicron variant, Chesapeake Regional Medical Center is seeing higher than usual volumes and wait times. We ask that that those with mild COVID symptoms find a testing site by going to vdh.Virginia.gov. If you have not yet received a free vaccine or booster, get one today by going to Vaccines.gov to find a vaccination center.

As we enter the second year of the pandemic, please remember that our front line staff is working hard to care for patients in our community. They are here to help and we are in this together. Be Kind."