The St. Charles Health System, which operates facilities in Bend, Redmond, Madras and Prineville, is the only game in Central Oregon if one needs to spend time in the hospital. Those who use its services do so with the intention of leaving in better health than they arrived. The last thing they need is to come down with an illness in the hospital, especially one that could have been avoided.

That’s why the system’s decision to require masks this winter for staff members who are not vaccinated makes sense. It’s also why the objection to the rule by the labor union representing the system’s nurses is puzzling. No, absurd.

Flu kills, and it’s particularly deadly for those over age 65, children, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions. In fact, according to Dr. Rebecca Sherer, director of infection prevention and control at St. Charles, influenza claims several lives a year in the system’s facilities.

Health care workers no doubt know that, and still, last year some 23 percent of St. Charles employees went without flu shots last year. Statewide, the rate among hospital workers was 21 percent.

The St. Charles mask policy is going beyond what other hospitals generally do. Here, masks must be worn by all unvaccinated employees, not just those who work directly with patients. Masks also must be worn throughout the system’s facilities, not only where patients are housed or treated.

The Oregon Nurses Association says requiring unvaccinated nurses to wear masks violates their right to keep their personal health care decisions private. What nonsense.

Nurses are caregivers whose focus is on the public’s health. As such, they must be concerned about transmitting flu and other viruses to those they care for.

Masks are neither the perfect answer nor the only one in the fight to prevent the spread of viruses. But they do help, which is why St. Charles requires them. It’s also why nurses should wear them without complaint — or, better yet, get a flu shot.