An early and significant flu season has prompted RMH to strongly recommend that visitors and outpatients don masks while in the hospital and its outpatient facilities to protect themselves and others from the flu.
This recommendation comes at a time when seasonal influenza cases are double the numbers experienced at this time last year.
“Our top priority is to keep our patients, visitors and staff safe,” said Dr. Dale Carroll, senior vice president, clinical effectiveness, and Chief Medical Officer. “Visitors will see signs and boxes of surgical masks at entrances to our facilities as well as hospital departments they visit. We encourage them to take a mask for their own protection as well as the protection of others.”
Since vaccines are not 100% effective, patients and visitors entering the facilities who have already had flu vaccines are strongly encouraged to wear a mask as an added protection for themselves and their loved ones, he said.
He noted that even when someone is not showing flu symptoms, he or she can be “shedding” or transmitting the flu virus to others as much as 24 hours before symptoms appear.
“Since influenza and other respiratory illnesses are so prevalent right now, wearing a mask can help protect people from exposure that might make them ill,” he said.
According to Dr. Carroll, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) uses five levels to describe flu activity across the state:
- 0 -- No flu activity;
- 1 -- Sporadic activity;
- 2 -- Local outbreaks;
- 3 -- Regional outbreaks; and
- 4 -- Widespread activity.
“VDH has determined that the state is at level 4, and has been since late December,” he noted. “We are seeing an earlier than normal peak in the flu season, but this high level of activity could continue throughout the next few months. The best protection is still immunization, so if you haven’t gotten a flu shot, it’s not too late.”
Dr. Carroll noted that all Sentara hospitals around the state, as well as other hospitals and systems, are implementing like policies. Many, like RMH, also have implemented policies for staff to receive flu immunizations or wear masks while working to protect patients as well as themselves.
The request for visitors and outpatients to wear masks is temporary, he emphasized, and will be discontinued when VDH declares the flu season has passed.
“We know wearing a mask may not be the most appealing and comfortable thing, but getting the flu is far worse,” Dr. Carroll noted. “We appreciate the cooperation of our community in helping us to keep everyone safe from the spread of influenza this season.”
He added that anyone with symptoms of cold or flu should not visit patients in the hospital until their symptoms are gone.
For more information and guidance on preventing influenza, go to the Virginia Department of Health website: www.vdh.virginia.gov