ASPEN HILL, Md. — The latest sign the health care system is reaching the breaking point due to the COVID-19 pandemic is at urgent care centers, according to frustrated patients.
This is happening as public health authorities in Maryland and Virginia are urging people to look for alternatives to hospital emergency rooms for COVID-19 testing and less serious medical issues.
In Maryland, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 remain above record-setting crisis levels, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
At one Patient First location in Aspen Hill, a sign in the door Thursday advised patients that the volume was "overwhelming" and that no more people could be registered for the day.
Patients who were registered said they had been advised to wait in their cars to be called into the facility when their turn came up. Many said they had been waiting for hours.
“I never thought it was going to get this wild,” marveled patient Betty DeJesus.
DeJesus brought three children to the Aspen Hill Patient First in search of COVID tests after contact with a positive family member.
Patient Lila Lozana said she gave up because she had to go to work. She said had hoped to seek treatment for an unexplained skin rash.
"It's very frustrating," she said.
Patients in Northern Virginia echoed the frustration in social media posts.
“They were not taking any more appointments” reported a mom who said on Reddit her child had a cut that needed stitches. The family went to a hospital for treatment instead.
In a written statement, Patient First said:
“Our advice to patients is, if you are not in need of urgent medical care, please consider postponing your visit until patient volumes return to a more normal level. At this time, we are only offering COVID-19 evaluation and testing to patients with one or more COVID-19 symptoms. We ask that those who do not have symptoms contact their local pharmacy or community testing site for testing.”
Patients complained that no appointments for testing are available at nearby retail pharmacies.
Prince George's County's health officer said the hospitalization rate in Prince George’s has increased 27% since last week.