Hospitals in the area have implemented a “collective masking” recommendation for all patients and visitors after the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed “widespread” flu levels statewide in Virginia for the second consecutive week.
Effective immediately, health systems across the region including Bon Secours, Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, Riverside, and Sentara are “strongly recommending” all patrons, including those who’ve received a flu shot, wear a mask inside hospitals, medical facilities, and physician practices, officials at Sentara said in a news release.
Masks and hand sanitizer will be provided at the entrances to the facilities.
“The flu vaccine is the best prevention available but is not 100 percent effective. Masking provides an added layer of protection from the potentially deadly disease,” officials said. “This community-wide recommendation helps protect our patients, visitors, and staff from exposure to flu, even before symptoms are noticeable.”
In the Virginia Department of Health’s Dec. 12 “Weekly Influenza Activity Report” Virginia had “lab activity with either elevated influenza-like illness or more than one outbreak in three or more regions” during the weeks of Nov. 23 and Dec. 7.
When the stats show “widespread” for a consecutive period as we’ve recently seen, Ana Colon, epidemiologist for the Eastern region at the Virginia Department of Health, said it translates to “significant activity in the community in general” and warrants the masking or any other collaborative efforts between area hospitals to increase prevention control practices.
Also according to the report, the number of patients seen for “influenza-like illness” was highest in Hampton Roads compared to any other region in the state during the week of Dec. 7 — a trend previously seen later in the season, Colon said.
“Historically in the Eastern region, we would see a steady increase but the up-tick happened maybe two to three weeks earlier than we usually see it,” she said. “We’d typically see a steady increase at the end of December then, in what we consider the peak season, we’d reach these levels at the end of January to the beginning of February.”
These levels of “intensity” for influenza-like illnesses slowly climbed from “moderate” to “high” in the weeks up to Dec. 7 and while Colon said the numbers will probably increase as they would during past peak seasons, she also said this isn’t a predictor for what’s to come for the rest of the flu season, which ends May 31.
“This time of the year you see a lot of flu-like illness that isn’t necessarily the flu but could be other respiratory viruses,” she said. “So this is a very general measure…It’s not influenza cases that we translate into numbers but into rates and percentages.”
Virginia Department of Health reports 390 positive confirmed lab reports and 253 pneumonia and influenza-associated deaths for the 2019 – 2020 flu season so far.
Officials at Sentara asked individuals experiencing those flu-like symptoms, or “fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, chills, and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea,” to stay home and refrain from visiting patients at area hospitals.
The masking recommendation is in effect during the flu season for as long as the disease is at widespread levels, officials said.
To further prevent the virus, officials at the CDC recommend everyone 6 months and older receive a flu vaccination and officials at Sentara also said taking measures like washing hands frequently, staying home when sick, and coughing into sleeves and tissues can also decrease the chances of spreading the flu.
Hospitals participating in the “collective masking” effort include:
- Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center
- Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital
- Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center
- Bon Secours Health Center at Harbour View
- Chesapeake Regional Healthcare
- Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters
- Naval Medical Center Portsmouth
- Riverside Doctors’ Hospital
- Riverside Regional Medical Center
- Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital
- Riverside Tappahannock Hospital
- Riverside Walter Reed Hospital
- Sentara Albemarle Medical Center
- Sentara CarePlex Hospital and Orthopedic Hospital at Sentara CarePlex
- Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital
- Sentara Leigh Hospital
- Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital
- Sentara Martha Jefferson Emergency Department at Proffit Road
- Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and Sentara Heart Hospital
- Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center
- Sentara Obici Hospital
- Sentara Princess Anne Hospital
- Sentara RMH Medical Center
- Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital
- Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center
- Sentara Freestanding Emergency Departments at BelleHarbour, Port Warwick, Independence and Lake Ridge