Hospitals urge use of free COVID-19 testing sites; reserve ER visits for urgent medical issues

With the surge of COVID-19 cases, many people are arriving at hospital emergency departments for testing. But unless you have severe symptoms, Lexington area doctors say that the ER is not the place to go for community testing.

Emergency departments are open as always for those experiencing severe symptoms or with urgent medical issues. But some people arrive with no or mild symptoms asking for a COVID-19 test. Everyone who arrives seeking treatment will be examined but waits might be longer due to crowding. Then, if symptoms are severe enough, a patient might be admitted.

“The concern here is that those who visit the ER just for a COVID-19 test with no symptoms will crowd out other people who need urgent hospital care,” said Mark Spanier, MD, ER physician at Baptist Health Lexington.

“Our ERs must be available for people who need emergency care,” said Dan Goulson, MD, chief medical officer for CHI Saint Joseph Health.

There are many free COVID-19 testing centers located across the state. For a list of testing sites near you go to

Urgent care centers also offer COVID-19 testing with an appointment. They can also be a great option when you’re in need of convenient medical services. Urgent care centers are staffed with physicians and nurse practitioners and provide a full range of medical services for people of all ages.

Virtual care is a fast, easy way to see a physician without leaving your home. A video visit provides convenient access to urgent care for patients, whether at home, in the office or while away from home. Urgent care video visits are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day on your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Of course, there are times where in-person visits to an emergency department are necessary, such as a broken bone or any life-threatening symptoms, not just those of COVID-19.

Symptoms that may indicate a life-threatening emergency include:

• Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
• Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
• Fainting, sudden dizziness or weakness
• Changes in vision
• Confusion or changes in mental status
• Any sudden or severe pain
• Uncontrolled bleeding
• Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
• Coughing or vomiting blood
• Difficulty speaking

Winter is always a busy time of year for emergency departments due to the rise of colds and flu. Lexington hospitals are committed to providing the best of care through our emergency rooms and ask for patience from the public if waiting times are a little longer through the next couple of months.