For the second year in a row, Cook Children’s Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centers are seeing a big influx of parents bringing in children who have been exposed to COVID-19 but show no symptoms. This is causing long wait times at all locations and putting unnecessary strain on the health care system.

On Monday, Aug. 29, our Emergency Department staff saw 614 patients, which is equivalent to a patient checking in every 2 minutes for 24 hours straight. That’s nearly double the number of patients we typically see in the ED. Our eight Urgent Care Centers  saw 873 patients, which is also much more than usual.

“We are seeing patient volumes equivalent to our worst winters, and it’s taking a toll on our staff,” said Dr. Kara Starnes, medical director of Cook Children’s Urgent Care. “We need everyone’s help by staying home if you only need a COVID test or if your child has mild symptoms.”

Free COVID tests still available to be delivered to your home:

Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order three rounds of at-home COVID-19 test kits from the government. You can easily sign up at covid.gov/tests and have the tests delivered to your home. The last day to order tests is Friday, Sept. 2.

Currently, 23% of COVID tests at Cook Children’s UCCs are coming back positive. In addition to COVID, Starnes says they are seeing a lot of colds.

“If your child tests positive for COVID at home, you can trust the test. You don’t need to have a health care provider confirm the results,” Starnes said. “If a COVID test comes back negative, it’s safe to monitor minor symptoms at home and re-test in 48 hours.”

The ED should only be used for COVID-19 symptoms such as:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

Cook Children’s experienced a very similar situation in August 2021, likely triggered by kids going back to school.

Please avoid the emergency room and UCCS for COVID-19 testing. If your child has been exposed to COVID-19, please use an at-home test or schedule an appointment with a testing location such as a pharmacy.

“If your child needs emergency care treatment, our Emergency Department is here for you. That’s why we’re here,” said Natalie Carpenter, director of Emergency Services at Cook Children’s. “But please don’t come to the emergency department for a simple COVID test.”

Where do you go when your child needs to be seen by a doctor?

Go to the emergency room if your child has trouble breathing, unusual sleepiness or confusion, poison ingestion, head injury with vomiting, serious burn or another life-threatening condition.

Call your health care provider if your child has ear pain, sore throat, diarrhea or vomiting, rash, cough or other non-urgent health concerns. The pediatrician’s office can help you decide what steps to take.

If you can’t get to your provider’s office or it’s after hours, go to an urgent care center. Urgent care centers manage the same problems as your regular health care provider plus services such as X-rays, stitches and splints.

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