Flu Activity Prompts Healthcare Worker Masking Requirement, Health Department Reminds Rhode Islanders of the Best Settings for Care

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) announced today that the flu is “widespread” in Rhode Island, triggering the State’s requirement for unvaccinated healthcare workers in hospitals and many other types of healthcare facilities to wear masks during direct patient contact.

“The masking requirement helps protect healthcare workers from catching the flu, and helps protect patients who are often dealing with other serious health issues,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. “For people who have not been vaccinated yet, it is not too late. Flu vaccine is the single best way to keep yourself and the people you love safe from the flu. Getting vaccinated today will provide you with months of protection.”

Unvaccinated healthcare workers must wear masks when involved in direct patient contact at the types of facilities listed below. Examples of direct patient contact are entering a patient’s room, serving food to patients, or participating in group patient activities. The requirement also applies to all licensed Emergency Medical Services (EMS) practitioners who have not been vaccinated against the flu.

RIDOH uses five tiers to categorize flu activity in Rhode Island: no activity, sporadic activity, local activity, regional activity, and widespread activity.

The healthcare facilities and organizations to which the masking 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

RIDOH is also reminding Rhode Islanders about seeking medical care in the appropriate setting. Many types of illnesses and injuries usually do not require an emergency department visit, including less severe cases of the flu. Going to an emergency department for a less severe case of the flu will likely result in a long wait because emergency departments prioritize more serious injuries and illnesses. Less severe cases of the flu are often more quickly treated by a primary care provider or in an urgent care facility.

However, some cases of the flu should be treated in an emergency department. Emergency warning signs that indicate that someone with the flu does need to go to the emergency department include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; pain or pressure in the chest; and having flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough. If someone is not sure if they need to go to the emergency department, they should contact their primary care provider. A primary care provider will be able to provide guidance about the next best step. (Most offices have physicians on-call after hours.)

Everyone older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated against the flu every year. In addition to healthcare workers, vaccination is particularly important for pregnant women, younger children, people over the age of 50, nursing home 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). Flu shots are available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies throughout Rhode Island.

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