The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) has alerted healthcare providers that the flu is no longer widespread in Rhode Island, which means that healthcare workers who have not been immunized against the flu are no longer required to wear surgical masks during direct patient contact.

The flu had been declared widespread in Rhode Island on January 2, 2019. ‘Widespread’ is the highest tier in the five-tier system that RIDOH uses to categorize flu activity in the state.

“Although the flu is no longer widespread in Rhode Island, it is still present in the state. Anyone who has not been vaccinated yet should be vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. “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. Year in and year out, flu vaccine is your best protection against the flu.”

Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone older than 6 months of age. It is 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.

The flu spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes near another person. The flu may also spread when people touch something covered with infected droplets and then touch their eyes, mouth, or nose.

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