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ER Visits Up As Virus Cases Surge Locally

UPMC Chautauqua is pictured on Foote Avenue in Jamestown. P-J file photo

The recent surge of new COVID-19 cases, combined with more people seeking medical care now than during the height of the pandemic, is resulting in more visits to local emergency departments.

Not everyone seeking emergency care are COVID-19 related, but the spike in recent virus cases — especially in the Jamestown zip code — is having an impact on local hospitals.

“We are certainly seeing an uptick in COVID, people looking for testing thinking they may be sick with COVID,” said Dr. Chris Cammarata, UPMC Chautauqua vice president for medical affairs, in an interview Friday morning.

As far as emergency department wait times, Cammarata acknowledged UPMC Chautauqua is experiencing periods of high volume, but noted that it’s no different than what facilities are seeing across the country. He said there are moments when the ER is crowded, but that volume fluctuates.

The Foote Avenue hospital in Jamestown is busier now than at the height of the pandemic when hundreds of new cases were reported by the county Health Department. Cammarata attributes this to more people shying away from the hospital at the time but now finally seeking care.

“We’re currently seeing a higher rolling average coupled with the COVID uptick,” he said. “There’s been this pent-up demand for health care for some people who had chronic conditions that have gotten worse.”

UPMC Chautauqua, like other health care facilities, has a surge plan in place when it sees an influx of people seeking medical care. That can include using certain rooms or beds for treatment to expand availability.

According to information by the health department, there have been 362 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Jamestown zip code since Sept. 1. That represents just over 37% of the 960 cases recorded across Chautauqua County during that time.

Cammarata said UPMC utilizes a triage system to help those most in need of care first. For people not requiring immediate medical care, he said there are several options available locally, including telehealth and Urgent Care locations.

“There are other options out there,” Cammarata said. “If your illness is severe you should never, ever hesitate to come to an emergency department. You shouldn’t worry about wait times. It’s when you think you have something less severe when you have options.”

Cammarata alluded to “staffing challenges” throughout the country. He said UPMC Chautauqua feels it is in a good position to handle the current uptick in people visiting the emergency department.

“Our staff is working very hard, really stepping up caring for patients,” he said. “This has been a very trying time with a high demand right now.”

He said the majority of people requiring hospital care due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated. The Pittsburgh-based health care organization is still highly recommending the public become vaccinated.

“We do see a few breakthrough cases come in, but the very ill with COVID, the large majority, are not vaccinated,” said Cammarata, noting that UPMC is still encouraging its employees to get the vaccine and will educate those not vaccinated.

In New York state, all health care workers must receive at least one dose by Monday, Sept. 27. “We do have the advantage of having the foremost experts on COVID,” Cammarata said of vaccine education efforts with employees.

HOSPITALIZATIONS UP

The county Health Department on Friday reported 88 new cases of COVID-19 along with a bump in active cases, new hospitalizations and people in quarantine.

Of the new cases, 40 came from people living in the Jamestown zip code. There were also 12 in Fredonia, eight in Dunkirk and five in Lakewood, among others.

There are currently 442 active cases, 34 people with the virus in the hospital and 1,193 people in quarantine. To date there have been 11,077 confirmed cases in Chautauqua County as well as 10,466 recoveries and 169 virus-related deaths.

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