Doctors said it's important to utilize urgent cares, primary physicians and online care when health symptoms are not an emergency.By Jessica Guay

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Health professionals are urging patients to not go to the emergency room for minor, non-life-threatening health issues.

Many hospitals are experiencing long emergency room wait times as they tackle an increase in COVID-19 patients and staffing challenges.

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UPMC did not specify how long wait times have been, but UPMC’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Donald Yealy said the demand for emergency care is very high right now.

“Many people are unaware of the access that they have for other types of care if they have an acute illness or injury, like online visits, the urgent care, their physician’s office,” Dr. Yealy said.

Dr. Mario Fatigati, associate chief medical officer of St. Clair Hospital, said there have been times when they’ve had waits recently and this week has been challenging, but the ER has been functioning quite well.

St. Clair Health officials did not specify wait times but said like all health systems, they’ve seen an increase in COVID patients, but the staff has integrated those patients into their daily care, and they continue to operate in a normal manner.

“I’m amazed at what the hospital staff and our office staff are able to do. People have really stepped up and are doing their best to make things work as usual,” Dr. Fatigati said.

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Dr. Yealy and Dr. Fatigati are stressing not to head to the ER for COVID-19 testing or mild symptoms.

“If there is a question of COVID, you have some mild symptoms, you’ve been exposed and now you’re concerned, that’s not the emergency room. That’s your primary care doctor’s office,” Dr. Fatigati said.

Health professionals say it’s important to utilize urgent care facilities, primary physicians and online care when health symptoms are not an emergency. But they say don’t avoid getting emergency care when you need it.

“Reserve the emergency department right now for when you are having more severe symptoms, when you’ve been not feeling well for an extended period of times or you have other life-threatening conditions, concerned about a heart attack, stroke, major trauma, broken bones, severe pain,” Dr. Yealy said.

For COVID-19 testing, they advise contacting your primary care provider or going to urgent care.

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On Wednesday, 417 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Allegheny County.