Flu and COVID cases in major cities are leading to longer wait times for ERs and emergencies

ST. LOUIS (KMOV) – Respiratory illnesses such as the flu, COVID and RSV are not only collectively increasing the number of sick leave cases in the St. Louis area, they are now impacting how long patients might wait for emergency care.

“We see about a 39 percent positivity rate in the patients we test for influenza, we see about a 14 percent positivity rate in the patients we test for COVID,” said Mike Jelinek, physician assistant at Total Access Emergency Care in Florissant.

News 4 was in the Florissant emergency room because patients were told wait times for service could be several hours.

“Waiting times of one to two hours are not uncommon, sometimes even longer,” says Jelinek.

Jelinek says they are seeing more cases of flu compared to last year. He says the rise in cases coupled with an existing shortage of medical workers will continue to impact how long people wait for care, especially as more people gather for the holidays.

“We are doing our best to treat as many patients as possible with our staff,” said Jelinek.

But the wait reaches even higher numbers at area hospitals like Barnes Jewish.

“In the last few weeks we’ve seen people dying from COVID and from influenza, and more from influenza than COVID,” said Dr. Robert Poirier.

Poirier is an emergency medicine physician at Washington University and clinical director of the Jewish Emergency Department in Barnes.

“If you can walk in and be discharged from the ER, you have to wait six hours or more on average,” Poirier said. “That means going through everything, the wait and being treated and being released. If you are admitted, we see average stays between 9 and 12 hours.”

Poirier says her emergency room prioritizes the critically ill or injured first.

“We use a triage process. That [sicker] you are, the sooner we see you. If your vitals are stable and you have fewer symptoms, you’ll wait longer,” he said. “Now some people are getting sick during the several hour wait so your priority in line may change.”

Both hospitals and Total Access Urgent Care clinics say to treat your respiratory illness at home if you have minor symptoms. Or, if you have a more serious illness or existing comorbidities, you should try to seek medical help as early in the day as possible.

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