Employees and volunteers at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center will have to start wearing a surgical mask around the Baton Rouge hospital if they don’t get a flu shot, under a policy announced by the Lake on Wednesday.

Lake officials said the policy about 7,000 “team members” — including physicians, allied health staff, volunteers, students, contract workers and other healthcare providers — will have to get a flu shot or wear a surgical mask “to protect the health and safety of patients.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all health care workers get vaccinated every year against the flu. However, voluntary programs have not been effective at markedly increasing vaccination rates, which have remained at 63 percent nationwide. At the Lake last year, voluntary vaccination for team members achieved roughly 40 percent participation.

“Getting the flu vaccine is the first and most important step to protect against the flu and avoid spreading it to others,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, medical director of infection control at the Lake. “For every 15 vaccinated healthcare workers, one person in the community is prevented from contracting the flu.”

In the United States, 30 million cases of flu occur each year resulting in more than 200,000 hospitalizations and associated increases in mortality. It is a highly contagious illness that can spread easily from person to person.