Avera Health and Sanford Health are asking people to stop going to the emergency room for COVID-19 tests and are instead encouraging at-home test use.
The two large health systems' staff and hospitals are reaching their limits as the state is in the midst of a omicron spike in the mists of the regular flu and cold season.
“Please do not go to the emergency room for COVID-19 testing, as the ER is for patients who are critically ill,” Kevin Post, a physician and chief medical officer for Avera Medical Group said in a statement.
He said only go to the emergency room if "you are experiencing severe breathing problems, chest pain or other life-threatening conditions."
Sanford Health and Avera Health are both reporting high numbers of hospitalizations, as about 392 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in South Dakota, according to state Department of Health information released Wednesday.
Sanford Health is running more than 5,500 tests per day, according to a news release.
"Our central laboratory in Sioux Falls is running 24/7 to keep up with the demand," according to the release.
The antigen and PCR at-home tests are accurate and acceptable for most people, officials say.
“This includes the public as well as Avera employees for the time being because positivity rates are so high,” Post said.
Both Sanford and Avera encouraged people to check the government's brand-new website and program for free at-home tests, which released Tuesday.
"At-home COVID-19 tests can be purchased at many drug stores and pharmacies," the Sanford Health release noted.
Hospitals and staff strained by COVID-19 testing and patients
Both Avera and Sanford Health have strained hospital systems across their networks, officials said.
Earlier this week, Avera Health had 180 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals and 750 patients in its COVID-19 Virtual Home Monitoring program.
It was seeing about 100 patients a few weeks ago. That number is still below its peak of 300 patients seen earlier in the pandemic.
"These numbers have increased significantly over the past couple of weeks, and we anticipate that same increase over the next few weeks," Post said.
As of Tuesday, Sanford Health had 231 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in its regional system, 52 of which were in intensive care.
In Aberdeen, Avera St. Luke's Hospital had five COVID-19 patients as of Thursday with one in intensive care, according to data from the state Department of Health. Sanford Aberdeen Medical Center had six COVID-19 patients none of whom were in intensive care.
Sanford Health to delay some elective surgeries
Sanford is asking patients to delay some surgeries by several weeks as hospitalizations increase.
“We are working closely with our surgical leaders, who are asking patients if they are willing to reschedule elective surgeries further into January or February if an overnight stay in the hospital is required," said Mike Wilde, a physician and vice president medical officer at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, in a statement. "Our staff is dedicated to providing the best care to patients as close to home as possible."
Both hospital systems also urge people to be fully vaccinated if they haven't already.
Schedule a COVID-19 vaccination appointment through your personal "My Sanford Chart" or by calling 877-701-0779 or by contacting Avera at https://www.avera.org/services/primary-care/immunizations/covid-19-vaccine/.
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Sanford Health and Avera near limit, ask for no more COVID tests at ER