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February 27, 2024

Respiratory Viruses Lead to Visitor Restrictions, Mask Mandates at Some NC Hospitals

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Jan 3, 2024

A surge in respiratory illnesses including COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has prompted several North Carolina hospital systems to implement visitor restrictions and bring back universal masking requirements in certain areas.

Flu Deaths Reach 30; Child Deaths Match Last Season’s Total

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported on December 28th that 30 people have died from the flu so far this season, including four children [1]. The child death toll matches last season’s total flu deaths for children in the state.

“Sadly, four children have already died just in the first few months of this flu season. We know families and communities are grieving these losses,” said State Health Director and NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson [2].

The predominance of influenza B/Victoria viruses this season has hit children and young adults particularly hard. The CDC estimates there have been at least 13 million illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations and 7,300 deaths from flu nationally this season [3].

Hospitals Seeing More COVID & RSV As Well

In addition to rising flu activity, COVID-19 and RSV cases are also increasing locally and statewide. Some hospitals are reporting their highest COVID test positivity rates since last winter’s Omicron surge.

RSV hospitalizations among children remain high following an unprecedented summertime outbreak of the common respiratory virus. Cape Fear Valley Hospital in Fayetteville reinstated visitor restrictions in its emergency department on December 28th due to high volumes of patients with respiratory viruses [4].

Personal Prevention Measures Encouraged

Health officials emphasize the importance of prevention measures to reduce further viral spread as hospitals deal with capacity issues. Getting an annual flu shot and COVID vaccine boosters when eligible, wearing masks indoors, practicing good hand hygiene, and staying home when sick can help protect vulnerable community members.

“With flu season ramping up, it is extremely important for people to get vaccinated as soon as possible – both the COVID vaccine and flu vaccine provide important protection,” said State Epidemiologist Zack Moore [5].

Respiratory Virus Estimated Illnesses (US) Estimated Hospitalizations (US) Estimated Deaths (US)
Flu 13 million 120,000 7,300
COVID-19 67 million 3.5 million 1 million

Returning to Masks

In response to elevated patient volumes, several major hospital systems have recently reinstated universal masking policies for staff and visitors:

  • UNC Health: Requires medical-grade masks for staff and visitors in UNC Medical Center adult and pediatric emergency departments as of December 28th [6].
  • WakeMed: Requires medical-grade masks for staff and visitors in WakeMed’s emergency department, Wakebrook behavioral health hospital, and WakeMed Children’s emergency department as of December 22nd [7].
  • Duke Health: Strongly recommends masking for staff and visitors in all patient care areas. Universal masking remains in several clinical areas including emergency departments and infusion centers [8].

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, Cone Health, Novant Health, and Vidant Health have not made changes to masking policies at this time but continue monitoring the situation.

Visitor Limits in Place

In addition to masking, several hospitals have placed limits on visitors in certain areas to reduce the potential for viral exposures:

  • UNC Health: Restricts visitors under age 18 and limiting adult visitors to 2 per patient in Southeastern Regional Medical Center’s emergency department and pediatric floor [9].
  • Cape Fear Valley: Restricts visitors under age 12 from adult emergency departments across its system [4].
  • Cherokee Indian Hospital: Restricts all visitors under age 18 [10].

Hospitals plan to relax restrictions once respiratory viral activity decreases to more manageable levels. For now, alternate communication methods like phone calls or video chats are recommended for people unable to visit loved ones.

Looking Ahead

Health experts say respiratory virus activity often ramps up through January before peaking in February. However, cases started rising several weeks earlier than usual this season. It remains unclear if viruses will follow typical seasonal patterns or remain elevated going into early 2023.

Hospitals emphasize that emergency care remains available for those with serious medical issues and encourage people not to delay necessary care. But the public can help by avoiding unnecessary ER trips for mild illnesses easily treated at home.

Preventing respiratory virus spread through vaccination, masking, handwashing and staying home when sick will help ease the burden on healthcare staff this winter. People should seek medical attention immediately for difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion, or other concerning symptoms.

Sources

[1] https://myfox8.com/news/north-carolina/30-people-have-died-from-the-flu-in-north-carolina-this-season-health-officials-say/
[2] https://www.witn.com/2023/12/28/dhhs-child-flu-deaths-equals-last-seasons-total/
[3] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/
[4] https://www.cbs17.com/news/local-news/cumberland-county-news/cape-fear-valley-updates-face-mask-visitor-guidelines-for-emergency-departments/
[5] https://abc11.com/respiratory-illness-covid-19-influenza-ncdhhs/14235869/
[6] https://chapelboro.com/news/health/unc-health-tightens-rules-on-children-sick-visitors-over-respiratory-infection-risks
[7] https://www.wral.com/story/coronavirus/story/hospitals-limit-visitors-as-flu-cases-surpass-covid/21217670/
[8] https://www.wral.com/coronavirus/story/flu-cases-double-at-duke-health-covid-rsv-also-on-rise-at-triangle-hospitals/21218594/
[9] https://www.robesonian.com/news/breaking-news/297310/temporary-age-based-visitor-restrictions-to-begin-at-unc-health-southeastern-on-wednesday/
[10] https://wlos.com/news/local/holiday-season-surge-in-viruses-prompts-restrictions-in-some-area-hospitals-prescription-pad-of-weaverville-ncdhhs-flu-rsv-covid-cherokee-indian-hospital-unc-health-wakemed-asheville

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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