RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia College of Emergency Physicians is asking Gov. Ralph Northam to declare a state of emergency to help give relief to emergency departments statewide.

They are also asking for public health officials to open more testing sites.

The call from the emergency physicians comes as the omicron variant spreads quickly throughout the country. Some local hospital systems have said emergency departments are becoming overwhelmed with the number of people coming in.

Virginia health officials on Thursday also asked people not to go to the emergency room if their COVID-19 symptoms are mild.

The Virginia state of emergency for the pandemic expired on July 1 this year, and executive orders imposing COVID-19 restrictions ended at that time.

“Emergency departments are considered a safety net for those patients in need of care, regardless of insurance status, and are federally mandated and morally obligated to provide care to all those who seek it. However, Virginia’s emergency medicine system is under threat of collapse due to excessive patient volume,” the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians wrote in a news release Thursday.

By declaring a state of emergency, the emergency physicians said the commonwealth could access federal dollars to support the response and increase staffing levels, enact protocols to more efficiently evaluate or treat patients such as through telehealth or other means, and help emergency departments allocate scarce resources more appropriately.

The Virginia College of Emergency Physicians said a lack of access to COVID-19 testing is impacting the number of people coming to emergency departments.

“There has been significant discussion in the last few years by health plans and legislators over what they deem ‘avoidable ER visits.’ What the current COVID crisis continues to show is that once again emergency departments and emergency providers act as the safety net for a fractured healthcare system that has significant socioeconomic disparities in access to quality health care. As always, if you are in need of care, the emergency department will never turn down any person who needs evaluation, treatment, or hospitalization, regardless of ability to pay,” said Todd Parker, president-elect of the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians.