Health bosses have issued an urgent plea as the number of patients with Covid has increased by 50% in the last week.
NHS Lothian has said that community prevalence of the virus is causing “serious capacity issues” across the health system.
The health board said that the increase in cases is having a direct impact on the workforce, with one fifth of nursing staff not at work as a result.
An estimated one in 20 people currently have the virus in Scotland with two-thirds of the cases in the 20 to 59 age group.
Dona Milne, director of public health at NHS Lothian, urged people not to forget what has been learned about keeping the virus under control.
She said: “Covid-19 has not gone away and cases are continuing to rise across Lothian.
“Our hospital system is under extreme pressure and we need people across Lothian to do their bit to prevent the system becoming overwhelmed.
“We would urge people to take sensible precautions when they are indoors or in crowded spaces and remind them that regular hand hygiene is vital and face coverings should be considered, especially in crowded places.”
Tracey Gillies, medical director of NHS Lothian, said: “The number of hospital inpatients who have tested positive has increased by 50% since a week ago. This presents many logistical issues as they need to be cared for within Covid-19 specific areas.
“On top of that, and in line with community transmission levels, there are increased numbers of staff testing positive with Covid-19, who must then self-isolate to protect patients.
“All of this means services are stretched right across the system, including community and social care services, resulting in high numbers of patients who are medically fit to leave hospital but who cannot be discharged because they need care in place to support them at home.”
The board encouraged relatives of patients who are medically fit to be discharged to help where they can by providing transport home for them, rather than have their relative wait for hospital transport.
They said this would speed up the discharge process and, in turn, free up more hospital beds sooner, allowing faster admission for patients from emergency departments where admission queues form when hospitals are full.
Relatives are also being asked if they can consider offering support to their loved ones who have been clinically assessed as “medically fit for discharge” but might still need extra help around their home.
Dr Gillies added: “We know that it is better for people to be looked after in a homely setting once they are medically fit to leave hospital.
“Unfortunately, the pressure on community and social care services means many patients are waiting too long for social care support and as a result spending longer in hospital than they need to.”
Dr Gillies reminded people in Lothian to make sure they get the “Right Care in the Right Place” by considering going to their local pharmacy or GP or by calling 111 to get an appointment with an expert in the Minor Injuries Unit (MIU), rather than automatically going to the Emergency Department.
She said: “If you think you need to visit A&E, but it’s not life threatening, call NHS 24 on 111 first, day or night.
“NHS 24 will direct you to the right care in the right place. They will direct you to an expert in our Minor Injuries Unit, GP or pharmacy and help reduce the length of time spent waiting in busy hospital departments.
“It is important too to remember that there is self-care information on NHS Inform. If it is an emergency always call 999 or go to your local A&E.”