Health workers fight wearing mask to work


It's a surprising statistic -- only 63 percent of healthcare workers nationwide get a flu vaccine.

"We're surprised. We thought there'd better participation level because they're in the industry. They know the benefit of the flu shot," said Don Quinn, who got the flu shot.

More than 35,000 people across the country die from the flu each year. More than 200,000 are hospitalized. The numbers are motivating California to mandate healthcare workers who don't get the flu vaccine to wear a mask when seeing patients to minimize transmission, especially to infants, senior citizens and others with weaker immune systems.

"If you're not going to get the vaccine, you should want to protect the people around you, the patients that you serve by wearing a mask," said Anthony Russell, M.D., from the California Medical Association.

But the California Nurses Association opposes the mask mandate. It feels a mask will affect their relationship with patients. Deanna Quinn says a mask would alarm her.

"If I went in and saw a healthcare worker with a mask on, I would assume that person was sick," said Quinn.

The Assembly Health Committee took up amendments. The proposal now doesn't even mention the "M" word - mask. It now allows the California Department of Public Health in a couple of years to mandate a 90 percent flu vaccination rate at hospitals and other medical centers.

If compliance rates fall below that, a mask could be required or the worker could lose their job. Alicia Haywood is concerned about grandson Israel, if medical personnel treating him aren't vaccinated against the flu.

"The mask keeps germs from spreading and if they're seeing patients one after one on a daily basis, it would just be a good idea," said Haywood.

Most hospitals in the United States require vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella and Hepatitis B prior to employment. More people die from the flu than all those diseases combined.

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