SUFFOLK, Va. - Local urgent care facilities are slammed with patients, and as COVID-19 cases surge, they don't expect relief any time soon.
AFC Urgent Care in Suffolk is one of the many local facilities seeing a near 50% increase in patient volume. Dr. Clarence Clarke, medical director and co-owner of AFC Urgent Care, said the rise became significant at the beginning of August.
"We've increased from averaging in the mid-40s to now seeing over 100 patients a day," he said. "Patients are coming in with a constellation of symptoms, so it's not just an exposure. They might have a variety of symptoms, and based on the symptoms I think everybody's heightened level of concern [is] that this is COVID."
Dr. Clarke said because more people are coming in for tests, his staff has gone back to double-provider coverage like they did at the height of the pandemic.
"[We are] having double coverage in providers so that we can try to keep up with the volume as well, and some of our providers are focusing solely on the patients who are here to get assessments for COVID symptoms," he said.
While tracking wait times, News 3 reporter Erin Miller met Shertina Wright on Wednesday afternoon. She was sitting in her car, standing by for her husband's COVID-19 test results. She said they came to AFC after not having much luck elsewhere.
"We've been waiting 10 or 15 minutes, you know, in all - they're still seeing people," she said.
Wright said her family isn't taking any chances against the virus after her daughter and grandchild were recently diagnosed.
"People are dying every day with this stuff, and I hope, pray to God that it will blow over sometime," Wright said.
Dr. Clarke is also an emergency room physician and said because of COVID, wait times are doubling in most places.
"I'm seeing it not only in the urgent care setting, but also seeing it every day in the ER," he said. "Now, with the hospitals being overwhelmed that people are also looking for other access to care, and that's where they're starting to flood the urgent cares and the primary care offices."
This is happening as providers are still taking care of routine visits and emergencies.
Edward Thur is a nurse practitioner at AFC who works 12-hour shifts.
"The more people that come in, the harder that it is to process, and we're certainly doing our utmost, our absolute best to accommodate everybody as fast as possible," Thur said. "There's nothing more important [than getting vaccinated]. It's the only way we're going to stand the time of this onslaught."
An onslaught of patients can also be emotionally difficult for providers.
Latrice Basden-Clarke, co-owner of AFC, said they offer nurses and staff monthly incentives to keep morale up. They have surprised them with food trucks, t-shirts and even root beer float supplies in the kitchen. Keeping mental health at the top of mind, they are trying to avoid burnout as best they can.
For patients, Basden-Clarke said AFC tracks the arrival patterns of patients, meaning when the facility is really busy and when there are lulls in walk-ins/appointments.
To beat the wait time, she said, "If you call, we're better able to guide you as when you should come in if you're going to be a walk-in or you want to make an appointment."
People are also encouraged to wait in their vehicles or run errands as long as they are within 10 minutes.
Many patients are even coming from across city and state lines.
"Sometimes people search the area looking for not only testing but treatment. We would find patients coming here from Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Beach, Newport News, Williamsburg - all traveling down to our Suffolk location," said Dr. Clarke.
They suggest searching around and calling multiple urgent care locations if the one closest to your house is very busy.
Practitioners at AFC in Suffolk are also administering the Moderna vaccine. Dr. Clarke said if a patient is being evaluated for another condition but inquires about the vaccine, and they have it available at that time, they will administer the vaccine and schedule you for your second dose.
"Increased rise of positive cases, increased hospitalization rates and just overall the increased exposure is going to demand more testing; it's going to demand more vaccinations," Dr. Clarke said.
Patient First is also experiencing the same increase. In a statement to News 3, they said:
"Patient First is seeing a significant increase in the number of patients at all nine of our Hampton Roads medical centers, resulting in longer than normal visit times.
Our physicians and support staff continue to see a mix of routine injuries and illnesses, including many patients presenting with upper respiratory and COVID-like symptoms.
Wait times vary depending on location and time of day. Our advice to the community seeking medical help is to please be patient. And to please remember that masks are required at all times while in our centers. Patients may wait in the car after sign-in.
Our physicians and support staff are working extremely hard. Despite the challenges, we are committed to maintaining access to medical care for our patients. Our doors remain open on a non-appointment basis from 8 am to 10 pm, every day including weekends."
Family-owned Williamsburg Urgent Care said:
As a small family owned urgent care, our main goal is, and has always been, to serve the community that we call home. There are many places in the Hampton Roads area, that do covid testing, including our office. However due to the high demand and sheer volume of testing that is needed in this second wave, we were forced once again to require appointments, not only to make sure we have enough testing kits for each day, but also to continue to practice as medical office.
Hence, all other urgent care issues, such as broken bones, rashes, strep testing, sports physicals, stitches, swimmers ear etc., are encouraged to come in on a walk-in basis. Though the walk-in volume has been very high, we are working hard to keep the wait times as low as we can and continue to serve the community the best that we can.
My advise to the community is not to wait until last minute to get your covid test. Plan ahead. Continue checking the Dept of Health website for updates on testing facilities. And most important- get vaccinated!
As for the wait times at hospitals, a spokesperson from Sentara said:
Sentara Healthcare is not turning patients away, but like many hospitals across Virginia, we are seeing a rise in the number of COVID-19 patients in our facilities. The vast majority of these COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. We are prepared to adjust and expand our capabilities as needed to continue caring for all of the communities we serve.
We strongly encourage all community members who are eligible and able to get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to the virus.