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ER providers are ‘overwhelmed’ amid Omicron surge

At Boston Medical Center on Monday, a man helped a woman navigate past cars and a line of people waiting to get COVID tests. The BMC urged people not to come to the emergency department for COVID testing.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Emergency providers warned Monday that they are “overwhelmed” by a holiday-fueled coronavirus surge and urged people to avoid emergency rooms for routine exposure tests or “mild symptoms.”

“Our Emergency Departments are at critical capacity and things will get worse,” the Massachusetts College of Emergency Physicians and Massachusetts Emergency Nurses Association said in a joint statement.

The group issued its warning as the Omicron variant sweeps across the country and puts a heavy strain on the healthcare system. On Monday, state public health officials reported that 2,221 patients with COVID-19 were in the hospital. There were more than 31,000 new confirmed cases, with a seven-day positivity rate of nearly 20 percent.


With the state down hundreds of hospital beds amid staffing shortages, emergency physicians and nurses warned that hospitals expect more employees to contract the virus in the coming days and weeks and be forced to miss work, placing further strain on emergency rooms.

The providers listed a number of steps people can take to help hospitals; getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and receiving booster shots; isolating when sick; being tested at a designated site or with an at-home test; wearing a mask around others; and socially distancing, regardless of vaccination status.

“Let us be clear,” the groups said. “We do not want you to ignore your symptoms or avoid emergency care when needed. You will be safely cared for despite the growing volume of patients with COVID-19.”

In the past several weeks, Massachusetts has seen a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. On Dec. 30, the state reported 21,137 new confirmed cases, setting a daily record. The US also shattered its own record for new daily coronavirus cases on Dec. 30 with more than 580,000.

The level of coronavirus detected in Boston-area wastewater has also reached new highs, with seven-day averages that shatter previous levels. Wastewater testing provides early warning for a COVID-19 surge. Cambridge-based Biobot Analytics, which tests the wastewater coming into the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s Deer Island treatment plant, has found the amount of virus is correlated with newly diagnosed coronavirus cases four to 10 days later.


Levels of coronavirus in wastewater coming from the northern and southern samples of the MWRA’s territory have risen substantially, well beyond levels seen at the height of the winter surge in January 2021, when cases rose beyond 5,000 a day.

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him @JREbosglobe. Maria Elena Little Endara can be reached at