AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– COVID-19 has put tremendous stress on hospitals since the beginning of the pandemic. Emergency room doctors say they’re dealing with a double edged sword– an influx of COVID patients and a depletion of hospital staff.

“With regard to the emergency departments specifically, Omicron has been the worst we’ve seen thus far in the pandemic,” Vice Chair of Clinical Operations for the Dept. of Emergency Medicine at AU, Dr. Stephen Shiver said.

Omicron is the most transmissible variant we’ve seen. More patients are headed to the E.R. with less people to see them and less places to put them.

“We’re trying as hard as we can, but basically all of our hospital beds are full, we’re short staffed from a combination of honestly a lot of hospital workers and staff got beat up over these past two years and a lot of them left medicine. But secondary, a lot of them are out themselves being sick,” Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at AU, Dr. Jedidiah Ballard.

This has drastically increased wait times.

“We have had times during the Omicron surge that we’ve had 40 plus patients in our waiting room and wait times of even 10 or more hours which has been unheard of in the past. It’s something new that we’re all having to deal with in real time,” Dr. Shiver said.

“Right now our wait times are pretty atrocious. Somedays it’s between 8 and 12 hours depending on what you’re showing up for,” Dr. Ballard said.

So if you have Omicron, when should you go to the ER?

“The biggest reason to come to the emergency department would be shortness of breath,” Dr. Shiver said.

Dr. Shiver says that means difficulty breathing to the point you can’t do your daily activities, or hold a normal conversation.

He says you should go if you’re in a severely altered mental state, experiencing extreme chest pain, or dehydration from gastrointestinal symptoms.

“The bottom line is there really are only a few reasons that would require an emergency department visit [for Omicron infection],” Dr. Shiver said.

These physicians say those who have received the COVID vaccine generally do not require hospitalization at all.

Dr. Shiver says there is a ‘great deal of misinformation’ concerning COVID-19 vaccines.

“Even with the Omicron variant, those that have been fully vaccinated are much better off than unvaccinated individuals,” Dr. Shiver said. “Vaccinated individuals may get infected with COVID-19, but they are much less likely to develop severe, life-threatening infections.”

Dr. Ballard adds that those who are vaccinated and have a breakthrough infection, “They just feel bad, they have a cold, they have COVID. But they’re not getting sick, they’re not going on a ventilator, they’re not dying. That is what the vaccine is doing.”