‘Widespread flu’ prompts mask requirement

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — Unvaccinated healthcare workers in hospitals and other types of healthcare facilities must wear surgical masks due to new state requirements and the current widespread flu in Rhode Island, announced the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) this week. 

“The masking requirement is critical in protecting healthcare workers from catching the flu, and also in protecting patients who are often dealing with other serious health issues,” said Director of Health Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. “For people who have not been vaccinated yet, it is not too late. Flu vaccine is the best way to keep yourself and the people you love safe from the flu.”

The healthcare facilities and organizations to which this regulation applies are:

•Adult day care programs

•Assisted living facilities

•CVS Minute Clinics

•Free-standing ambulatory care surgical centers

•Free-standing emergency care facilities

•Home care providers

•Home nursing care providers

•Hospice providers •Hospitals

•Kidney treatment centers

•Nursing facilities

•Organized ambulatory care facilities

•Physician ambulatory surgery centers

Unvaccinated healthcare workers in these facilities must wear surgical masks when involved in direct patient contact. Direct patient contact is considered routinely anticipated face-to-face contact with patients, such as entering a patient’s room, serving food to patients, or participating in group patient activities.

In addition to the healthcare workers in these facilities, all licensed EMS practitioners who have not been vaccinated against the flu must wear masks when engaged in direct patient contact.

Everyone older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated against the flu every year, according to RIDOH. In addition to healthcare workers, vaccination is particularly important for pregnant women, people older than the age of 50, nursing or group home residents, and people with chronic conditions (such as heart, lung, or kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, anemia, blood disorders, or weakened immune systems).

Symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough, head and body aches, fatigue, and runny nose. Some people also experience vomiting and diarrhea.

Flu shots are available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies throughout Rhode Island.

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