- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Sick visitors to Washington County Hospital are being asked to don masks or stay away.

The Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury has asked schools not to send carolers this holiday season.

These and other stern measures are being implemented in hospitals across the country under “respiratory etiquette” guidelines recommended last month by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are aimed at preventing visitors from spreading cold and flu germs — something hospital officials say is especially important because of the flu vaccine shortage.

“The key is that we’re protecting our patients and our staff, and encouraging people to cover their coughs, use good respiratory hygiene and personal hygiene. Hand washing should be emphasized, too,” said Kathy Morrisey, director of infection control at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown.

The message is reinforced in the front lobby. “Got flu?” a sign reads. “If you are visiting a patient at the hospital and have symptoms of cold or flu, please come back and visit when you’re feeling better.”

Those who ignore the sign won’t be thrown out, Miss Morrisey said yesterday — but they may be asked to wear a pale yellow, paper mask, available at dispensers in the waiting areas of the emergency department, the Express Care clinic and the laboratory-radiology department.

Each dispenser holds 50 free masks. Next to each is a “Cover your cough” sign and a dispenser of foamy, alcohol-based hand sanitizer. A similar message plays on an electronic message board near the ceiling of the emergency department waiting room.

On every table is a box of tissues, which people are urged to use for every cough and sneeze.

Lab department visitor Penny Wise-Blake, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said she would use the mask if she were ill. “That way it would contain it,” she said.

About two weeks ago, the Peninsula Regional Medical Center asked schools that usually send holiday singers not to do so this year.

In Princess Anne, the Manokin Manor nursing home said school choruses still could come, but there will be no more room-to-room visits. Instead, the singers will perform in the dining room.

Nancy Fiedler, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Hospital Association, said health care institutions are increasingly implementing such steps to minimize the spread of respiratory diseases.

“It might be masks. It might be limiting visitors. We think there are a lot of steps that people visiting hospitals will see,” she said.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has received orders for about 80,000 of the 96,000 doses of flu vaccine it was allocated in November by the CDC, said Greg Reed, program manager for the agency’s Maryland Center for Immunization.

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