Local health workers are gearing up for a second round of flu vaccination clinics after the Rhode Island Department of Health announced a flu outbreak on Wednesday.
While The Westerly Hospital, local schools and senior centers have not reported widespread cases of the flu to date, vaccinations will be provided at several clinics in Chariho and Westerly in the coming week.
The dominant flu strain spreading through the state, H1N1, has led to 51 flu-related hospitalizations in Rhode island this season, according to the health department.
Michael O’Farrell, director of public relations for Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, reported three flu-related hospitalizations at The Westerly Hospital, with two in December and one in the last week.
All health care workers who have not been vaccinated are required to wear masks when dealing with patients, as mandated in conjunction with the health department’s declaration of widespread flu. O’Farrell said the hospital will only be providing flu shots to its staff, but encouraged community members to seek vaccination from their doctors or drugstores.
“That’s the biggest thing we’re urging people to do,” he said. “That, and wash hands often, often, often.”
O’Farrell said that based on last year’s busy flu season and the recent attention this year’s flu strain has received, the hospital is paying close attention to prevention and diagnosis of flu symptoms.
At local schools, superintendents for Chariho and Westerly both reported no change in attendance records yet, but also advocated preventive measures.
“There’s no indication, through attendance, which is how we track things, that flu has impacted the schools,” said Roy Seitsinger Jr., Westerly superintendent.
Barry Ricci, superintendent for Chariho, said students should frequently wash their hands, cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, and stay home from school if experiencing flu-like symptoms to keep the spread of the virus at a minimum.
At the Westerly Senior Center, Executive Director Donald Reynolds also reported few to no cases of flu among its members. Many senior center members have already been vaccinated thanks to a clinic held at the center during October, Reynolds explained.
“Luckily, we were prepared ahead of time, and we really did encourage our members to get the shot early,” he said.
For those still in need of a vaccination, flu shots are available at three upcoming clinics in the area. Richmond Elementary School will host a clinic from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, and the Charlestown Senior-Community Center will offer vaccines the following day, Jan. 19, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In Westerly, shots will be given from 5 to 8 p.m. at Westerly Middle School on Tuesday, Jan, 21.
There are no costs or health insurance requirements to receive a shot at any of the clinics, but those with insurance are asked to bring their insurance cards with them. More information, as well as other locations for vaccination clinics, is available online a health.ri.gov/flu.