LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Patients with mild, cold-like COVID-19 symptoms can now receive medical care at a new, temporary COVID-19 Care Clinic across the street from the Lakeland Regional Health emergency room.

The clinic is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. It opened Jan. 13.

“Our COVID Care Center is a temporary outpatient department of the hospital that provides a convenient alternative to Emergency Department care for those patients experiencing mild symptoms of COVID-19,” Terry Hamilton, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Lakeland Regional Health, wrote in a statement. “Anyone needing emergent care or facing a life-threatening emergency situation should visit the nearest emergency department.”

A sign outside the clinic on Parkview Place urges patients to go to the emergency room if they have difficulty breathing, chest pains or for life-threatening emergencies.

A patient who is unsure of the severity should still go to the ER and can be referred to the clinic if the symptoms are mild, a spokesperson said.

As of Monday, Lakeland Regional Health was treating 244 patients with COVID-19. This comes after an ER nurse told 8 On Your Side staffing challenges have led to waits in the ER.

“Health care doesn’t stop if you get sick. Somebody will have to fill in your shoes. With the high flow, we’ve had some waits in our emergency room,” said Stephanie Anderson, an emergency room nurse. “I’ve seen four to five hours but we do a good job of putting a lot of people through those doors too.”

Mary Mayhew, the president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, said the omicron variant of COVID-19 infected more health care workers than any other surge.

“That has created a significant strain on our nurses and physicians and respiratory therapists and ER staff,” she said.

She said that has compounded “one of the worst workforce shortages” hospitals have experienced in decades.

In previous interviews, Dr. Timothy Regan, the president and chief medical officer for Lakeland Regional Health, has urged people not to visit the emergency room solely for COVID-19 testing. He also urged people to try alternative places for COVID-19-related inquiries.

“I totally understand where people say ‘well, I have a couple of symptoms that may seem a little unusual that I would love to talk to a doctor or a nurse practitioner about.’ We also have clinics in the community that can address those concerns,” he said.

Lakeland Regional Health also offers urgent care locations at 130 Pablo Street and 4710 Florida Avenue South. Operating hours for those locations are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.