Mount Sinai Hospital is trying to prevent crowding in its emergency rooms, where doctors estimate seeing at least one in five patients who are experiencing mild sickness, including COVID-19 symptoms, making them candidates for a virtual doctor visit.

"We're definitely seeing a lot of people right now who are having mild symptoms,” Dr. Erick Eiting, an emergency medicine physician at mount Sinai Beth Israel, said. “Some of them may be the flu, some of them may be a variety of viruses, and some of those are indeed turning out to be COVID patients.”

What You Need To Know

  • Mount Sinai estimates that between 20% and 30% of patients in emergency rooms have mild symptoms, including from COVID-19

  • Mount Sinai is trying to get these patients to use its app to speak with physicians

  • Patient advocates say telehealth meetings can be helpful, while ensuring that physicians take their symptoms seriously

He described patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms as having "some sore throats, but able to keep down food and drink, patients who have a little bit of a fever, or a little bit of a cough, some body aches, and diarrhea is definitely a symptom that we're seeing with some the people walking around with infections right now," he said.

Hospitals in the city saw a spike in patients this winter and, as of this week, the seven-day daily average of COVID-positive people in a hospital is 578.

A spokeswoman for NYU Langone told NY1 it's seeing more patients, both virtually and in its emergency rooms, with more mild COVID-19 symptoms, compared to past waves.

Meanwhile, EMS, facing a staffing crunch during this winter COVID-19 wave, recently directed emergency crews to limit transportation of certain patients with influenza-like illness

But it's not just a sore throat that's bringing people into the hospital, says Mount Sinai's Dr. Eiting.

"We definitely are seeing patients who are coming to a hospital trying to get a COVID test," he said.

Mount Sinai wants patients with mild symptoms to speak with physicians through its app, rather than inside an emergency room.

"Telehealth appointments are great during COVID because it minimizes risks and can usually be very fast," said Caitlin Donovan, the senior director at the National Patient Advocate Foundation.

But patients can still advocate for themselves to make sure physicians understand the severity of symptoms.

"One of the best things you can do is to ask someone to be there, to validate what you're experiencing," Donovan said.

Another way to help a doctor determine if a trip to the hospital is necessary: data, like temperature, blood pressure and oxygen levels.

However, that requires tools some people may not have on hand.

"The more information the person has on the other line, the more accurate their diagnosis is going to be, and their treatment," Jangir Sultan, CEO and founder of Patient Advocates of NY, said.