Mayo Clinic and the City of Rochester are seeking donations of homemade sewn cloth masks to protect their staff employees from COVID-19.

The call for donated masks from seamstresses, sewers and community organizations comes as hospitals and cities are trying to preserve their finite stockpile of medical-grade N95 masks for mission-critical usage. 

In a press statement, a Mayo Clinic spokesperson said the clinic will use homemade masks that are created following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines

Mayo has set up drive-up donation centers at the Gonda East entrance and at Mayo Family Clinic Southeast and a donation site at Frances Staff Cafeteria that will run weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Rochester Fire Department has set up collection barrels in front of all five firehouses. 

Mayo officials say the donated masks will be used by staff who do not work in patient care areas, as well as by patients and visitors. 

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Rochester Fire Chief Eric Kerska said the aim of the donation request is aimed at preserving its supply of high-grade masks and, by extension, protecting responders and city workers from falling ill to the virus. 

He emphasized that the measure is not just for first responders but city electricians, sewer and sanitation workers and city water employees. 

"Worldwide, there's a shortage of medical grade masks due to this high demand because of COVID-19," Kerska said. "But the resupply chain is not necessarily reliable right now. So we have to try to conserve the medical grade stuff for when they're actually needed."

Kerska said a first responder, for example, would need a N95 mask when administering CPR to patient, when the task requires a rescuer to be in close quarters with the patient. However, there are less dire circumstances when a homemade mask would offer sufficient protection for fire personnel and city workers.

"We don't want to use medical grade masks for just walking down the street or walking into a building," Kerska said. "The CDC says that a homemade mask can do that. But right now, we're using medical grade for that kind of stuff."

N95 masks are one-and-done items and thus can't be re-used. And since it is still unknown how long this pandemic will last, officials are worried about running out of masks.

A Mayo official said that cloth masks are not a substitute for social distancing and do not offer filtration, but they can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others. 

"Based on the latest guidelines from the CDC regarding masks in public settings, Mayo Clinic is now recommending wearing cloth masks in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain," an official said. 

Businesses who wish to donate large quantities of new supplies such as masks, can contact Mayo supply chain at development@mayo.edu, so the items can be vetted to ensure they meet requirements.