Delta variant causes rise in COVID-19 emergency department visits in the unvaccinated

Delta variant causes rise of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the unvaccinated.

Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

Exterior of the Emergency Department in the North Pavilion of UAB Hospital showing the "Emergency" sign with streaks of red lights from an ambulance driving past, April 2020.Delta variant causes rise of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the unvaccinated.Hospital emergency departments across Alabama continue to see a rise in COVID-19 cases during the pandemic, but continue to demonstrate the expertise needed to take care of patients. 

“We are seeing an increase in cases across our emergency departments,” said Marie-Carmelle Elie, M.D., chair of the UAB Department of Emergency Medicine. “We have patients presenting with COVID-19-like symptoms, particularly the Delta variant. The single most effective preventative intervention at this time remains vaccination. Communities, particularly those with elderly or compromised immunity, also need to continue being vigilant about masking in close quarters.”  

Elie is quick to affirm that the UAB emergency departments at the main hospital, UAB Highlands Hospital and the freestanding facility at Gardendale are safe for patients who need emergency medical care. 

“With changes in masking practices and the arrival of the Delta variant, we are experiencing more cases in our emergency rooms,” she said.  “It is important that people experiencing heart attack, stroke or other significant health issues do not delay getting immediate medical care for fear of contracting the virus. However, patients without symptoms who are concerned that they may have contracted the virus or interested in vaccination, have resources available in the community. ” 

UAB offers several alternative care options for those conditions or illnesses that may not require the services of an emergency department. 

“We have several options that patients can use outside of the emergency room that may be appropriate for some medical issues,” Elie said. “One is simply your primary care physician, who can now often be reached quickly through patient portals and telemedicine. Another is UAB Medicine’s Urgent Care Clinic in Southside.” 

“If you are not sure, by all means, go to the nearest emergency department,” Elie said. 

Options outside of the emergency room include: 

  • UAB Medicine Urgent Care, 125 20th St. South, Birmingham. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. The clinic offers access to both UAB Medicine physicians and advanced practice providers for non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Walk-ins are welcome, with lab and X-ray services available on-site. Wait times at Urgent Care are much lower than at the emergency departments, and co-pays can be hundreds of dollars less. 
  • UAB Medicine’s network of primary care physicians, with facilities in Gardendale, Leeds, Hoover, Inverness, the Kirklin Clinic and Whitaker Clinic of UAB Hospital, and UAB Family and Community Medicine at Highlands Hospital.

“Our emergency departments are open for business. We are ready and willing to address your needs at all times.” Elie said. “We also want to remind the public that there are other options that can be considered.”