December 23, 2014–Effective Wednesday, December 24, 2014, hospitals and health care systems strongly recommend all patients and visitors wear a mask when entering hospitals, freestanding emergency departments, urgent care centers, and branch clinics, including those seeking outpatient services at hospitals. This measure is in place to protect the community from the spread of flu.

A mask is also strongly recommended for patients and family members seeking care at associated physician practices.

Public health officials report seasonal influenza cases in Virginia and North Carolina are now at the highest level—widespread level. Experts also predict a severe flu season since the main circulating strain “drifted” or changed, and this year’s vaccine is a poor match to that strain. That strain (H3N2) historically has caused severe disease, and the same outcome is being seen this year.

Since vaccines are not 100% effective, all patients and visitors are still strongly encouraged to wear a mask when entering the facilities, even those who already had a flu vaccine. Vaccine is the best prevention available and masks provide added protections for the community and their loved ones. 

Data suggests infected persons can transmit the virus as much as 24 hours before displaying symptoms. This recommendation helps protect patients, visitors, and staff from exposure to flu, even before symptoms occur. 

As healthcare providers, our goal is to protect the community from disease. Every appropriate tool and measure will be considered to limit flu among patients, visitors, family members, and staff at medical facilities. Masks and hand sanitizer are available at facility entrances for public use and other options will likely be considered throughout this flu season.

Individuals displaying symptoms of influenza-like illness are asked not to visit patients at area hospitals.  Symptoms of flu include: fever and respiratory illness symptoms such as cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, chills, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

The recommendation to wear a mask when entering healthcare facilities will remain in effect during the flu season, while flu in the region is high.

Other measures to limit the spread of disease, especially flu, are: stay home when sick, wash hands frequently, get vaccinated and cough into sleeves or tissues.

Published: December 23, 2014