UPDATE 3/14: Flu cases have declined significantly over the last three weeks according to reports by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health.

With flu levels now at regional levels, area hospitals lift their recommendation for visitors to wear masks upon entering area medical facilities.

NORFOLK -- In an effort to protect patients, visitors and medical staff from the spread of flu, area hospitals and health care systems strongly recommended Monday that all patients and visitors wear a mask upon entering hospitals, freestanding emergency departments, urgent care centers and branch clinics.

The strong recommendation comes at a time when seasonal influenza cases in Virginia have reached the widespread level, which the Virginia Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite as the highest level of flu activity.

Doctors at Patient First, a health clinic in Chesapeake, say they've seen a sharp increase in flu cases over the past few days.

'They [flu patients] will say they feel like they got hit by a truck,' said Dr. Mark Hippenstiel, of Patient First.

The flu has been blamed for 13 deaths in North Carolina.

Patients and visitors entering the facilities who have already had a flu vaccine are still strongly encouraged to wear a mask, as an added protection for themselves and their loved ones.

Medical evidence suggests infected persons can transmit the virus as much as 24 hours before displaying symptoms.

Masks and hand sanitizer will be provided at most facility entrances for public use, officials said.

Hospitals and health systems are also asking individuals displaying symptoms of influenza-like illness not to visit patients at area hospitals.

Symptoms of flu include: fever and respiratory illness such as cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, chills, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

'This has just started, so I think the worst is yet to come,' said Hippenstiel.

Participating hospitals and emergency departments include:
Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center
Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital
Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center
Bon Secours Health Center at Harbour View
Chesapeake Regional Medical Center
Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters
Halifax Regional Hospital
Naval Medical Center Portsmouth
Riverside Doctors' Hospital
Riverside Regional Medical Center
Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital
Riverside Tappahannock Hospital
Riverside Walter Reed Hospital
Sentara CarePlex Hospital and Orthopaedic Hospital at Sentara CarePlex
Sentara Leigh Hospital
Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and Sentara Heart Hospital
Sentara Obici Hospital
Sentara Princess Anne Hospital
Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital
Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center
Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center
Sentara Freestanding Emergency Departments at BelleHarbour, Port Warwick, Independence, Lake Ridge, and Lorton Marketplace
Martha Jefferson Hospital
Martha Jefferson Emergency Department at Proffit Road
Sentara RMH Medical Center
Southampton Memorial Hospital in Franklin

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