PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — All health care workers in Rhode Island who have not yet been vaccinated for the flu must now wear masks while caring for patients after the illness was declared widespread by the the R.I. Department of Health.
“The masking requirement helps protect healthcare workers from catching the flu, and helps protect patients who are often dealing with other serious health issues,” Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said in a statement Wednesday.
Unvaccinated workers at the following facilities are required to wear masks when in direct contact with patients:
- 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
- Kidney treatment centers
- Nursing facilities
- Organized ambulatory care facilities
- Physician ambulatory surgery centers
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the health department, says the agency has different tiers used to measure flu activity in the state.
“Right now we are in the highest tier, what we call ‘widespread flu,'” he explained. “It’s during that widespread flu that health care workers are required to wear those masks.”
Health care workers in Rhode Island are not required to get vaccinated for the flu, according to Wendelken, but it’s encouraged since they work in an environment where they could be exposed to it.
The health department also stressed the importance of anyone older than 6 months of age getting vaccinated every year, especially younger children, pregnant women, people over the age of 50, people with chronic conditions, and those living in a nursing or group home.
“It’s really important that people who have not been vaccinated yet, get vaccinated against the flu,” Wendelken said. “It’s absolutely not too late in the season.”
“Flu vaccine is the single best way to keep yourself and the people you love safe from the flu,” Dr. Alexander-Scott added. “Getting vaccinated today will provide you with months of protection.”
While some cases of the flu require an emergency room visit, the health department advises speaking to a primary care doctor or urgent care center first.
Wendelken said the flu typically circulates in Rhode Island until the end of spring.