(WFXR) — As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to increase at record-high levels amid the spread of the omicron variant, health officials and hospital leaders urge Virginians to avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room if you only have mild coronavirus symptoms or other non-serious illnesses.

According to a statement released by the Virginia Department of Health on Thursday, Dec. 30, hospitals across the Commonwealth — which have recently seen an influx of patients seeking ER care for asymptomatic or relatively mild COVID-19 infections, as well as the flu and other seasonal illness.

However, health officials say that most individuals who contract the coronavirus do not need to visit the emergency department. Instead, you can recover effectively from the virus at home, or by seeking primary care treatment and/or speaking with your primary care provider.

“Virginia’s caregivers have worked nonstop to serve their communities throughout this pandemic. They are feeling the strain of yet another surge and are looking to the community for support,” said Steve Arner, Carilion Clinic Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer and the Chair of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) Board of Directors. “It’s crucial for community members to seek the appropriate level of care, ensuring that emergency rooms are reserved for emergencies.  Of course, the best support that you can give is to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.”

The VDH says that people with severe COVID-19 symptoms — such as significant difficulty breathing, intense chest pain, severe weakness, or an elevated temperature that lasts for days — should consider seeking emergency medical care.

On the other hand, if your symptoms are “mild to moderate” – including a cough, sore throat, runny nose, or body aches – or if you just wanted to be tested for the coronavirus, you are urged to consult an outpatient primary care provider.

“More than 15,000 Virginians have died from COVID-19 during the course of this pandemic, and thousands have been hospitalized,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver. “The best defense against serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. If you have not gotten vaccinated or boosted and are eligible, please do so now. Do it for yourself, your family, and your community, including the health care workers we depend on to be there when we truly need emergency care.”

Virginia health officials say that unnecessary visits to the ER not only put a great strain on hospitals and frontline healthcare workers, but they can also delay treatment for patients who are experiencing actual medical crises and deplete resources like medical staff, testing kits, personal protective equipment, and therapeutic treatments.

You can read the rest of Thursday’s statement from the VDH below:

Virginia is in the midst of a fifth coronavirus surge since the pandemic began last year. The peak of this latest surge may not arrive until several weeks after the holiday season concludes, making it likely that its true impact on public health and the health care delivery system is yet to be fully felt.

Infections have spiked this month – the Commonwealth recently eclipsed 1 million total COVID-19 cases and has documented more than 51,564 new infections since Dec. 24. Meanwhile, daily COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen from 922 on Dec. 1 to 2,101 as of today (Dec. 30), a 128 percent increase in that time.

While these numbers are elevated, they remain below the peak hospitalization numbers Virginia encountered this time last year. That is thanks in large part to the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines. Data continues to show that the majority of patients currently hospitalized in Virginia for COVID-19 care are unvaccinated.

That is among the reasons why the health care community continues to urge unvaccinated individuals to make a plan to get the vaccine and to get boosted. U.S. adults 18 and older are eligible to receive a two dose course of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine has also been approved for use in children ages 5-12 and adolescents up to age 17. Adults 18 and older are also eligible to receive a single dose of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The available vaccines offer strong protection against illness from COVID-19. And for those who contract a breakthrough case of the virus after being vaccinated, the vaccine reduces the risk of serious illness that leads to hospitalization or death. Please visit vaccinate.virginia.gov, call 1-877-VAX-IN-VA, or visit vaccines.gov to find free vaccines near you. At Community Vaccination Centers, appointments are strongly encouraged to avoid extended wait times, but walk-ins are welcome.

Statement released on Dec. 30, 2021 by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH)