Anti-flu rules at hospitals loosened

Area hospitals are easing restrictions on visitors — including bans on visits by kids under 12 — aimed at stopping the spread of swine flu.

However, visitors can still be asked to wear a mask or come back another day if they feel ill, especially in maternity units. Newborns are particularly vulnerable to illness.

Signs warning against ill visitors entering the hospital are still posted at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

“There’s still flu in the community,” said Preston Simmons, the hospital’s chief operating officer. And disease specialists with the state Department of Health have warned that swine flu could hit again in the coming year, he said.

But healthy kids younger than 12 will now be allowed to visit hospitalized patients, Simmons said.

In October, Providence joined many Puget Sound-area hospitals in banning kids under 12 from visiting patients as part of an effort to try to prevent the spread of swine flu.

Hospitals allowed exceptions for special circumstances, such as visits to dying patients.

Stevens Hospital in Edmonds did not have a hospital-wide policy limiting visitors during the height of swine flu in the fall.

However, precautions were in place for visitors to the mother-baby unit and visitors can still be questioned about their health, said spokesman Steve Kaiser.

“If someone is sick, they really shouldn’t be coming to see newborns,” Kaiser said.

If visitors seem to be only mildly ill, they may be asked to wear a mask, he added.

Valley General Hospital in Monroe has lifted limits on the number of people allowed to visit a new mother in its mother-baby unit.

Gone, too, are restrictions preventing children 11 and younger from visiting patients, said Norma Walker, executive assistant.

Visitors found it hardest to understand restrictions on the number of people who could come to the mother-baby unit, she said. “They wanted to see the new baby and mom,” she said.

Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington also has lifted restrictions on visitors.

Neither the University of Washington Medical Center nor Harborview Medical Center in Seattle had banned visits by children, said spokeswoman Clare Hagerty.

“We looked at all visitors regardless of age and screened for symptoms,” she said. “If there were any kind of (flu-like) symptoms, we turned people away.”

Those policies remain in place, Hagerty said. “They’re still pretty vigilant.”

Seattle Children’s Hospital has lifted its ban on visitors under the age of 12, spokeswoman Teri Thomas said. But signs remain up asking visitors if they have cold or flu symptoms.

“That’s a routine question we ask of visitors,” she said. If they are feeling ill, “then we ask them not to visit.”

Sharon Salyer:425-339-3486 or

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