SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – Sacramento County Public Health officials continue to urge residents to refrain from using emergency services unless they are in need of life-saving treatment as ambulances wait hours outside local hospitals.

SCPH said that those who have mild symptoms related to COVID-19, such as a cough or sore throat, should treat themselves with over-the-counter medication and only call 911 if they have life-threatening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, a very high fever, or chest pains or pressure.

In a media briefing Thursday, Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said hospitalizations are currently projected to go up and emphasized the county is working with hospital administrators to ensure they’re fully staffed.

SCPH also said that some areas in the region may have already reached their peak for cases and are beginning to plateau, but they are waiting to see what the next few days will bring.

The announcement comes as wait times for emergency responders continue to skyrocket nationwide.

The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District said in a tweet that 18 ambulances were left waiting outside UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento Wednesday evening. A spokesperson with Metro Fire told FOX40 there was a five-hour wait time and one of their ambulances had to wait for over 11 hours.

“Yesterday at 4:30pm, 18 ambulances were parked at UC Davis with patients waiting on the hospital wall for a bed. This creates a major problem for the pre-hospital 911 system because there are fewer units a available to respond,” Metro Fire wrote in Thursday morning’s tweet.

During a state legislative hearing Wednesday, first responders said taking more than the anticipated 20 minutes to receive a patient at a hospital emergency room isn’t good for the patient and impedes their ability to head out on new emergency calls. Often, they said, they wind up waiting hours at hospitals because no one is available to receive new patients — a problem that doctors and a hospital administrator said stems from delays in lab work, X-rays and insurance authorizations.

Dr. Lori Morgan, president and chief executive of Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California, said emergency room overcrowding has become common during the pandemic following a rise in non-urgent use of emergency departments for issues such as behavioral health and homelessness support. She said she also faces obstacles to discharge patients, such as a lack of post-acute care beds and insurance delays.

Sacramento Assistant Fire Chief Eric Saylors said every time ambulances are tied up with patients at hospitals, he sees response times in the community go up. Last week, he said a patient stopped breathing near a hospital where two ambulances were waiting with other patients for more than an hour. Another ambulance that was 8 miles away drove over to transport the patient to the hospital, he said.

“These are taxpayer resources that are being used right now to staff hospitals,” Saylors said. “This is nothing short of criminal.”

Data compiled by the Sacramento County Emergency Medical Services Agency shows that in December alone the average wait time for public and private ambulances at hospitals was over an hour and 15 minutes. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.