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Massachusetts Emergency Room Doctors, Nurses Say They're Overwhelmed

BOSTON (CBS) - Emergency room doctors and nurses in Massachusetts hospitals say they're overwhelmed because of this latest COVID-19 surge.

The Massachusetts College of Emergency Physicians and the Massachusetts Emergency Nurses Association released a joint statement Monday, saying "Your Emergency Departments are at a breaking point."

The ER doctors and nurses said waiting rooms are overflowing, hospital beds are limited and they expect the strain on the health care system to only get worse as more staff get infected with COVID-19 and have to stay home to isolate.

Dr. Melisa Lai-Becker is the chair of the emergency department at Everett Hospital. She is seeing firsthand the number of patients pouring in and a shortage of staff to care for them.

"Our emergency departments operating 70% usual staffing levels yet seeing 140% of our usual volumes," said Lai-Becker. "It's exasperating it's frustrating and it really makes you question how much longer we can sustain where we're at."

The president of UMass Memorial Health Care issued a similar warning Monday, saying hospitals are in for a "rough" January.

The urgent message from the ER doctors and nurses stressed that those who need emergency care should not ignore their symptoms. But they're pleading with people not to go to the emergency room for routine testing for COVID-19 exposures and for mild symptoms because that is overwhelming staff.

"We see that the lines at the test sites are too long but people who are seeking testing in our emergency departments are adding to the current crisis across the board," said Lai-Becker.

Doctors and nurses also asking people to do what they can to prevent ending up in the hospital, such as getting vaccinated and boosted, wearing your mask, socially distancing and staying home if you're sick.

Lai-Becker hopes the governor will help spread this message and increase COVID testing.

"Hopefully with the governor's office more testing sites can be opened hopefully the supply chain of rapid tests can also be increased because frequent testing is key," she said.

This comes as new restrictions went into effect Tuesday at hospitals in the Mass General Brigham system.

They will continue to allow two visitors a day for people admitted to the hospital, but the visits will have to be one at a time. Non-patient visitors, like vendors, entering the hospital, now have to show they're vaccinated against both COVID-19 and the flu.

Mass General Brigham said if you have symptoms you think are from COVID-19, such as a fever, sore throat, or cough, you should contact your primary care physician first and they will help you figure out the next steps.

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