ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Officials with two of New Mexico’s largest health care providers issued a warning Monday: People showing up at hospital emergency rooms with minor or mild complaints should be ready for long waits.

The officials with the University of New Mexico Hospital and Presbyterian Healthcare Services told reporters that their emergency departments are overwhelmed and that the situation is expected to get worse.

They stressed that the sickest patients are being treated first and that emergency rooms are no place for people seeking COVID-19 test who do not have severe symptoms.

“If you are very sick, we are here for you and we want you to come in. If your illness is mild, we really encourage you to seek care through your primary care physician, a virtual visit or some other alternative and not come to the emergency department,” said Dr. Steve McLaughlin, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of New Mexico.

At Presbyterian, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Mitchell said staff is trying to deal with overrun emergency rooms by treating patients with mild issues in hallways or in waiting rooms.

He also encouraged people to get COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations, saying help keep infections mild so hospital trips can be avoided.

The situation is no different in other states, where staffing shortages among health care workers have complicated issues. Even before the pandemic, New Mexico was dealing with a nursing shortage and had one of the lowest patient-to-bed ratios among states.

Despite the increase of confirmed COVID-19 infections due to the Omicron variant, most of the patients hospitalized in New Mexico now are being treated for illnesses other than COVID-19. However, the officials said that even a small number of COVID-19 patients adds to the crush for hospital staff.

“We really are in a public health crisis and we’re asking for the public’s help,” Mitchell said.

The officials also warned that cloth masks aren’t effective and that people “need to up the game” given the high rate of transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

Infections are happening among vaccinated hospital staff as well, but the officials said symptoms mostly have been mild. Still, McLaughlin said it was a “huge challenge” to have workers out due to mandatory quarantines.

If conditions worsen, Mitchell said it’s possible the quarantine time for health care workers with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic could be cut further to address staffing shortages. He said Presbyterian continues to follow federal guidelines.