Two of Syracuse’s three hospitals are making nurses and other workers who skip the flu shot wear masks. St. Joseph’s and Crouse are taking the precaution as an early flu outbreak intensifies and lands more people in the hospital. The mask rule applies to staffers who work directly with patients. Upstate University Hospital is not requiring unvaccinated workers at its downtown and Community campuses to wear masks. “When we get into mandatory use of a mask, we have union issues,” said Dr. John McCabe, chief executive officer of University Hospital. McCabe said he doesn’t know if a mask requirement is “worth the fight.” About 68 percent of workers at Upstate’s downtown campus and 80 percent at its Community campus have been vaccinated. Employee vaccination rates are 83 percent at Crouse and 93 percent at St. Joe’s.
The state Health Department says all health care workers should be vaccinated against influenza to protect their health and the health of their patients. State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah, speaking at a recent meeting of the state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council, called the failure of health care workers to get vaccinated “deplorable.” He said unvaccinated workers should wear masks. Less than half of the state’s health care workers were vaccinated during the 2011-2012 flu season, Shah said. Nationally 67 percent of health care workers were vaccinated during the last flu season, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. McCabe said he agrees with Shah. “I don’t understand why someone who spends their time taking care of patients and devoting their life to that doesn’t see this is part of that,” he said. The flu started earlier than usual this year and is hitting hard. The Onondaga County Health Department received reports of 506 laboratory-confirmed cases in the week ending Dec. 15. Of those cases, 46 involved people who were hospitalized. The county has seen 1,277 confirmed cases so far this season.
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