CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In an almost unprecedented move, President Obama has declared a national emergency because of swine flu.
Officials at area hospitals say that means less red tape as health care workers try to treat more patients.
"We're seeing more and more people come into our emergency department with influenza-like illness," said Dr. Richard Patterson, the chief of medicine at Piedmont Medical Center.
Nationwide, ERs are filling up, prompting a presidential declaration of emergency. Patterson says the last time that happened was "around 1917 when we had a worldwide epidemic of this same type of virus and millions of people died."
But, Patterson explains, the declaration is really administrative.
"So that if we are hit by a surge in patients, we'll be able to offer, for instance, an off-campus place for people to go and be screened first," he said.
It means less red tape and less paperwork for hospitals. Patterson says that's a good thing because this virus does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
"It just appears to be increasing in its ferocity in how infectious it is and how many people it affects -- not so much in severity of illness, just in how infectious it is," he said.
And, Patterson says, swine flu is still somewhat of a mystery.
"We're going to know a lot more a year from now, but I'm not sure that's going to be the end of it," he said.