HARLINGEN — If COVID-19 has severely depleted your oxygen level, get to the hospital immediately.

The virus has so overloaded local hospitals they can only accept the most severe cases, said Dr. Ameer Hassan, head of the neuroscience department at Valley Baptist Medical Center.

“You don’t need to be in the hospital if you have COVID symptoms,” Hassan said. “You only need to be in the hospital if your oxygenation level is low. If you need oxygen, it’s recommended you get admitted.”

Simply having a fever and cough and a little difficulty breathing isn’t cause to admit a COVID-19 patient into the hospital, according to Hassan.

Those who have an oxygenation level above 92% can recuperate at home. ERs and hospital rooms are only for the most severe COVID patients with a low oxygenation level, as well as for heart attack and stroke patients, Hassan said.

“Usually people come into the hospital with some sort of chest pain,” Hassan said. “The majority of it is actually anxiety. We do an EKG to make sure there’s nothing wrong with them, but a lot of these people are just anxious and it’s only worsened during the COVID crisis.”

He said, however, that hospitals never turn away stroke patients.

Ambulances line up recently outside the emergency department at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

“If you have a numbness or weakness on one side of the body that’s not from anxiety, that’s you having a stroke,” he said.

Stroke or no stroke, the most serious COVID-19 patients will be admitted.

“We’re not going to be taking care of every single patient with COVID symptoms just like we don’t take care of every flu patient,” he said. “The serious ones we admit, the ones who need oxygen.”

Hassan recommended people purchase an oximeter to monitor their blood oxygenation. If the oxygenation level falls into the 80s, they should come to the hospital. Otherwise, they should remain home.

“There’s nothing else we can do for you in the hospital that’s going to be different than you staying home,” he said.