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Rhode Islanders Urged to Take Respiratory Virus Prevention Measures

With levels of respiratory viruses like the flu and COVID-19 continuing to increase in Rhode Island and across the country, all Rhode Islanders are urged to take prevention measures to help keep themselves and their family members healthy.

"As we have seen the last several years, holiday travel, holiday gatherings, and more time indoors all lead to increases in flu and COVID-19 transmission," said Interim Director of Health Utpala Bandy, MD, MPH. "Now is the time for all of us to take some basic prevention measures to stay healthy. Those prevention measures such as getting vaccinated and avoiding contact with people who are sick are critical for anyone who is at greater risk for severe illness."

People who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses include older adults, people who live in nursing homes and other congregate settings, people who are immunocompromised (such as people who have had organ transplants), and people with underlying health issues. Examples of underlying health issues include diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart or lung disease. A full list of people who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses is available online.

COVID-19 prevention recommendations

- Get vaccinated. The 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for everyone older than six months of age. You can get the 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine even if you have not received COVID-19 vaccine previously. Vaccine is available throughout Rhode Island. In addition to preventing serious illness and hospitalization, COVID-19 vaccine can also help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

- If you are at high risk of getting very sick, consider wearing a high-quality mask when around others indoors. Additionally, consider wearing a high-quality mask when indoors if you have been exposed to someone who may have COVID-19, or if you will be around someone who is at high risk of getting very sick.

- Get tested for COVID-19 if you have any of the classic symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever or chills, a runny nose, a cough, achiness, or loss of taste or smell. If you have household or social contact with someone at high risk for getting very sick, consider self-testing for COVID-19 before seeing that person.

- If you have COVID-19, CDC's Isolation Calculator can help you determine how long you should stay home and isolate away from others. COVID-19-specific isolation guidelines are available online.

- If you have COVID-19, learn more about doctor-recommended treatments for COVID-19 that can keep you from getting sicker and being hospitalized.

These measures can also reduce someone's chance of experiencing Long COVID, in addition to acute COVID-19. Long COVID can develop during or after acute infection and last for an extended period of time.

General respiratory virus prevention recommendations

- Get your flu shot. Flu shots are recommended every year for everyone older than six months of age.

- If you have a fever but do not have COVID-19, still stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Your temperature should be measured without the use of fever-reducing medicines (medicines that contain ibuprofen or acetaminophen).

- If you have the flu and are at higher risk for severe illness, talk to your healthcare professional about Tamiflu. Tamiflu is an antiviral medication for the flu. Tamiflu can help make flu symptoms less severe and shorten the recovery time from the flu.

- Wash your hands regularly throughout the day using soap for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean your hands. Hand washing is especially important after touching your eyes, nose, or mouth; after leaving a public place; and after touching objects or surfaces that may be frequently touched, such as door handles, light switches, and tables.

- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands. Always wash your hands as soon as you can after you cough or sneeze.

Seeking care in the right place

During respiratory virus season, hospital emergency departments are often more crowded. Children and adults in emergency departments with less serious health issues may experience long wait times. If you or your child does not need emergency medical care, do not go to the emergency department. Long waits in the emergency department are frustrating, and they expose you and your family to new sicknesses.

Many health issues can be treated more quickly and effectively by a primary care provider or in an urgent care facility or health center. These include back pain, sprains, minor cuts, colds, sore throat, low-grade fevers, and most cases of norovirus (also known as the stomach flu).

RIDOH has lists of primary care providers, urgent care facilities, and health centers at health.ri.gov/rightplace

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