State health officials declared Wednesday that flu is prevalent across New York and ordered health care workers who are not vaccinated against the infectious disease to wear masks.
The declaration, ordered by state Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald, impacts health care workers at numerous facilities including hospitals and nursing homes as well as those at certified home health agencies and diagnostic and treatment centers.
Lab-confirmed influenza cases have been steadily ticking up across the state, with an increase of 34% outside of New York City and 21% in the five boroughs over the previous week as of Nov. 25. This year is relatively mild compared last year, but worse than two years ago. There were more than 27,000 lab-confirmed cases across the state for the week ending Nov. 26, 2022, compared to 4,061 this year. There were 1,137 lab-confirmed cases for a similar week in 2021.
“We have now declared that flu is prevalent in New York State, which means health care personnel who are not vaccinated against the flu this season need to take extra precautions and wear a mask in health care facilities, as they are exposed to sick patients and come into close contact with those most vulnerable to the flu,” McDonald said in a statement.
Nationally, there have been at least 1.8 million illnesses, 17,000 hospitalizations and 1,100 deaths from the flu this season, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said eight pediatric deaths have been recorded so far this season as a result of the flu.
“We are seeing sporadic cases of the flu but I wouldn’t call it prevalent here yet,” said Dr. Neal Shipley, medical director at Northwell-GoHealth Urgent Care. “We are expecting, as the holidays come and people are gathering together and getting on airplanes, that we will see a rise in all of the upper respiratory viruses — flu, COVID-19 and RSV.”
Shipley said vaccine fatigue and hesitancy might be preventing more people, particularly children and adults, from getting this year’s flu vaccine, even though it’s the best way to stave off serious illness from the virus.
“The flu virus changes every year and people need to get the vaccine to protect themselves and others,” he said.
Shipley said health care workers at Northwell-GoHealth who are not vaccinated against the flu are already required to wear masks as part of the system’s own policy.