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SAN DIEGO — Rady Children’s Hospital is asking the public not to show up to their emergency room just looking for a COVID-19 test for kids to return to school or even with mild symptoms.

In a statement Monday, the hospital said the reason is to “prioritize patients with serious illness or injury.”

“For return-to-school tests, check your district’s guidelines, use over-the-counter rapid antigen tests if possible, or visit for testing locations,” the hospital said.

Health officials with the only children’s hospital in the county are urging families to turn to other options if their needs truly aren’t dire.

“Calling your pediatrician, calling a nursing line and getting advice,” said Dr. Scott Herskovitz, director of emergency medical services at Rady. “There are plenty of facilities out in the county that are offering COVID testing.”

But the county’s free COVID-19 testing sites have shown no signs of slowing down. Long lines could be seen at several locations Monday after back-to-back holiday weekends.

“I’m just going to have to try another the next day or try to find a place that has a home test,” said Chris Poma, who couldn’t get into the Encanto testing site before closing time Monday.

This week, 15 children are being treated in a special infectious disease unit at Rady Children’s Hospital. The hospital has a total capacity of 30. With that, hospital officials are reminding everyone to plan ahead and use available resources.

“Maybe it means you have to drive another five minutes to go to another facility,” Herskovitz said, “but thinking about it as a risk-benefit and knowing do you really want to expose your children to other potential infections in the emergency department to what they’ve already been exposed to — and then also there’s a cost of the emergency department as well.”

Click or tap here to see no-cost COVID-19 testing sites in San Diego County. Vaccination locations in the county are available here as well as through the federal government’s vaccination website,