Age-based restrictions imposed at UNC Hospitals


By Michelle Cassell
Managing Editor

UNC Hospitals and UNC Health Chatham implemented temporary age-based visitor restrictions for some areas across our inpatient hospitals that began at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.

“We understand these restrictions can present some challenges for our visitors and can be difficult for children who have a loved one in the hospital,” said Dr. Emily Sickbert-Bennett, Director of Infection Prevention for UNC Hospitals. “However, in looking at the data and this active respiratory illness season, we believe this decision is important to help keep our patients and teammates safer while providing a healthy environment where our patients can continue their healing journey.”

According to Thomas Hughes, a UNC Health Media contact, the data came from UNC Hospitals’ weekly COVID-19 and Respiratory Virus Surveillance Report.

 “To give you an example, the latest data I have shows that on Monday [Jan. ] we had approximately 38 patients with COVID, 33 patients with influenza, and 30 patients with RSV as  an inpatient or in the emergency departments,” Hughes said.

In comparison, the data shows that during the previous week, there were approximately 22 patients with COVID, 34 with influenza, and 20 with RSV as inpatients or in the emergency departments. These numbers reflected the number of patients in-house or in the Emergency Rooms on Tuesday, 12/26.

These data show that COVID percent positivity and admission numbers are definitely increasing [again], Hughes said.

UNC Health posted the following on Tuesday, Jan. 2, UNC Hospitals’ Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and Youth Behavioral Health campuses and at UNC Health Chatham in Siler City:

  • Visitors aged 11 and younger will be prohibited from all inpatient areas and all waiting rooms
  • All visitors with respiratory symptoms are prohibited from these same areas
  • Normal visiting policies will remain in effect for the remaining areas within UNC Hospitals
  • Healthy visitors of any age will remain welcome in our lobbies and retail/food locations

“We sometimes restrict younger visitors during peak times for respiratory illnesses because of several factors. Children get sick more often than adults do, stay ill longer, may not be able to express their symptoms, and are more likely to transmit infection as they expel more virus when ill — leading to a higher risk of transmission. In addition, children are less able to adhere to respiratory hygiene protocols (i.e., cover mouth and nose with tissue when coughing, washing hands, etc.). 

“We hope these temporary restrictions don’t impose a burden on our patients and their families. We will look to lift the restrictions as soon as possible,” said Hughes.

Other hospitals in the UNC Health system set their own visitor restrictions and policies based on local trends and other factors. At this time, UNC Health Rex in Raleigh and Holly Springs are not implementing additional restrictions.

Please note: If you’re planning to visit a loved one in the hospital, check with their clinical team or on the hospital’s website under “Visitor Policy” for any updates.

If you are feeling sick or have recently experienced any symptoms of respiratory illnesses, please stay home. We continue to encourage all visitors to wear masks in our hospitals.

UNC infection prevention teams continuously monitor key criteria to help guide hospital leaders’ decision-making regarding when to impose and lift visitor restrictions to protect patient and teammate safety. We will share updates about when this restriction might lift as available.

About UNC Health

UNC Health is a state entity and an affiliated enterprise of the University of North Carolina system, comprised of 15 hospitals, 19 hospital campuses and more than 900 clinics, along with the clinical patient care programs of the UNC School of Medicine (SOM).

Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. 

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