The Rhode Island Department of Health on Thursday issued a memo to health care providers announcing that flu is no longer considered widespread in the state. The change in designation means that health care workers not yet immunized against the flu are no longer required to wear surgical masks during direct patient contact.
"Although the flu is no longer widespread in Rhode Island, it is still present in the state," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Department of Health. "When you get a flu shot, you are not just protecting yourself. You are also protecting the ones you love by preventing the spread of the flu."
For Rhode Island, the 2019 flu declaration lasted 112 days, starting on Jan. 2. "Widespread" is the highest in the five-tier system used by the department to categorize flu activity.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health designated the flu as widespread effective Dec. 16, 2018, and it remained that way for 18 weeks. Officials indicated that as of Thursday, the status had not changed in the state.
Officials in both states urged those who have not had a recent vaccination to consider getting one. The vaccine is recommended for those 6 months and older. and is considered especially important for healthcare workers, pregnant women, senior citizens, young children, and people with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and asthma.
Beyond vaccination, there are other measures that Rhode Islanders should take prevent the spread of the flu. They include:
- Hand washing often throughout the day. Use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel.
- Coughing or sneeze into your elbow. Flu is spread through coughing or sneezing on other people or into your hands. Cover your coughs and sneezes to prevent others from getting sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods.
- Keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.
For more information about the flu, visit www.health.ri.gov/flu.