POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – As COVID-19 continues to push emergency response systems and hospitals to their limits, Polk Fire Chief Robert Weech is asking that 911 calls be limited to the most serious of emergencies.

“If you can avoid using the 911 system, this is a good time to do that,” Weech said. “The system is under strain. Certainly, if you have an emergency, stroke, heart attack, or if you have an accident, certainly call 911. But if you have other ways of getting medical care, you need to exhaust those at this time so that we can deal with those bigger emergencies.”

According to the county, Polk Fire Rescue typically responds to about 280 calls a day during this time of year. But in recent weeks, it has averaged about 340 calls a day, up to about 400.

County officials say the increased number of calls has led to additional wait times for ambulances waiting to transfer patients to hospitals. It has also meant a delay in response times to certain parts of the county.

“Right now, while our system is being taxed, we are still holding up and able to provide our normal level of service,” Weech added. “We just ask that, under the circumstances, if it isn’t an absolute emergency to find another way for medical care other than calling 911.”

Pasco County’s fire chief also expressed a similar sentiment this week, asking residents to avoid using 911 for COVID-related calls.