Worcester Officials Urge Residents to Wear Masks Amid Rising ‘Tripledemic' Threat

With flu season underway, along with a rise in RSV and the potential for a winter COVID-19 surge, officials are recommending face coverings for all residnets while indoors or in crowded outdoor spaces

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With the start of flu season underway, along with a rise in RSV and the potential for a winter COVID-19 spike, officials in Worcester are urging residents to wear masks and get vaccinated to avoid surges and prevent further strain on area hospitals.

"As flu season begins, Worcester is also experiencing an uncharacteristic rise in cases of respiratory syncytial virus," Worcester officials said in a release Monday. "Combined with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, city health officials are urging residents to take precautions to stay safe, avoid surges, and prevent further strain on local and regional hospital systems."

Considering the risk to children and potential for spread in schools and daycare facilities, health officials are strongly recommending masking for children at least two years of age, as well as for family members, caretakers and anyone else in close contact with infants and other high-risk individuals. Children with symptoms of respiratory illness or fever are being asked to stay home until those symptoms have cleared.

"Face coverings are also recommended for all residents while indoors and around others, and while in crowded outdoor public spaces and events to reduce the risk of flu and COVID-19," the city's statement continued.

What are preventative measures you can take to avoid RSV? The CDC recommends washing hands and avoiding close contact with others.

RSV is one of three respiratory infections currently raising health concerns. The others are influenza and COVID-19creating somewhat of a triple threat.

Flu season typically peaks between December and February, but can last until May. The flu is expected to be more commonplace this year because precautions taken during the pandemic like mask requirements are gone. Plus, people are spending more time indoors with the weather getting colder, which officials said raises the stakes for the spread of COVID and the flu.

In addition to wearing masks, Worcester officials are encouraging residents to get both a flu and COVID-19 vaccine dose at the same time.

This season's flu vaccine is now available at most pharmacies. Locations can be found at vaccines.gov/flu.

Cases of RSV have been on the rise, overwhelming pediatric hospitals in parts of the country. The flu and COVID are also a seasonal threat.

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are also available at area pharmacies, as well as at the following ongoing weekly free clinics across the city:

  • Central Community Branch YMCA, 766 Main St.: Mondays, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • UMass Memorial Health Mercantile Center Clinic, 100 Front St.: Mondays, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Worcester Public Library, 3 Salem Square: Wednesdays, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays, from 12 to 5 p.m.
  • AIDS Project Worcester, 165 Southbridge St.: Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Through Dec. 19, anyone who receives a dose at Monday's YMCA clinic or Saturday's Worcester Public Library clinic will receive a $75 gift card courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, while supplies last.

A full schedule of vaccine and booster clinics around Worcester can be found at worcesterma.gov/coronavirus/vaccination.

Some Worcester residents who spoke with NBC10 Boston Monday seemed wary to go back to masking, but Dr. Michael Hirsh, the city's medical director, urged people to consider it.

"It’s a small price to pay to make yourself safer," he said.

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