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Hospital emergency rooms are not COVID-19 testing sites, say local hospital officials

Hall Ambulance Ride-Along

Paramedic Mitch Findley radios Adventist Health Bakersfield as a patient is transported to the hospital, in this 2019 photo.

Some local hospital emergency rooms are getting slammed as record numbers of people come in requesting rapid COVID-19 testing in non-emergency situations.

As Kern County continues to experience a dangerous surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, the emergency departments at Mercy and Memorial Hospitals are experiencing an influx of people trying to use emergency rooms as COVID-19 testing sites.

"We are totally slammed," said Ken Keller, president and CEO of Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.

This influx of patients without symptoms seeking rapid testing is contributing to longer wait times in the ER, Keller said.

According to a news release from Dignity Health Bakersfield, the influx is also contributing to delays in care and higher and unnecessary emergency room bills. It also makes it more difficult to maintain social distancing in waiting rooms.

"We are seeking the media's help in communicating that rapid testing is not available through our three Dignity Health Bakersfield emergency rooms for those who do not have qualifying symptoms," the release said.

"For the safety of our patients and care teams, those who are asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms should visit their primary care physician, an urgent care facility or designated outpatient COVID-19 testing area," the Dignity release said.

Teresa Adamo, a spokeswoman for Adventist Health Bakersfield, said they too "continue to remind the community that our emergency rooms are for emergency care only.

"We do not offer routine COVID-19 testing," Adamo said.

Adventist, which also has hospitals in Tehachapi and Delano, is using Facebook posts and offering an informational flyer to people who do come to their ERs seeking COVID tests.

Both Dignity and Adventist are sharing a link that lists several locations for testing throughout Kern County via the county's Public Health website.

The surge in COVID-19 cases, plus requirements by airlines, some colleges, employers and government agencies for negative test results for the unvaccinated, is driving the demand for more testing, said Tim Calahan, a spokesman for Clinica Sierra Vista, one of many entities listed on the Public Health website.

For those who are experiencing a medical emergency or more severe symptoms, Keller said, by all means seek treatment at an ER or call 911.

Symptoms such as difficulty breathing, high fever, and cough may fit that category.

Keller also strongly encouraged anyone who hasn't already been vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so as quickly as possible. 

"It's one of our best suits of armor to protect ourselves," he said.

For a list of COVID-19 testing sites throughout Kern County, visit: https://tinyurl.com/esehzfar

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.