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Mayo Clinic wants patients and visitors to switch masks

In response to omicron variant, Mayo Clinic is asking people to wear surgical or procedural masks for appointments and when visiting.

Face Mask
Surgical or procedural face masks are being encouraged for use by patients and and others when visiting Mayo Clinic facilities.
File photo

Mayo Clinic doesn’t want cloth masks worn in its facilities.

In an effort to limit COVID-19 spread amid a growing omicron variant wave, the medical institution is asking all patients and visitors to switch to medical or surgical masks in an effort to add a layer of protection against the spread of COVID-19.

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“This is a proactive change to reduce the risk of transmission on our campuses and ensure a safe environment for our most vulnerable patients,” said Dr. John O’Horo, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert.

Additionally, all staff members will be required to wear medical or surgical masks when on a Mayo Clinic campus.

Requirements have already started in some areas and will roll out over the next few days in others, O’Horo said.

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“Several studies have demonstrated the variability in cloth mask performance,” stated a Mayo Clinic online post Wednesday. “While a high-quality cloth mask may perform similarly to a medical-grade mask, patients and visitors use a wide range of face coverings, making standardization necessary.”

The post pointed to single-layer cloth masks, neck gaiters and bandannas as specifically failing to provide optimal protection.

Mayo Clinic will provide patients and visitors with an acceptable mask if they arrive at a facility with an unacceptable option, which include masks with exhalation valves.

Acceptable options include surgical and procedural masks generally worn by medical staff, as well as N-95 and KN-95 masks.

O’Horo said the medical and surgical masks being provided by Mayo Clinic are similar to many disposable options sold in stores.

“Most of the over-the-counter masks I see in most pharmacies and stores are very similar functionally to the kinds of masks we are talking about today,” he said, adding that the Mayo Clinic options have been tested to ensure they provide the desired protection.

He said the masks are good until they are soiled or visibly damaged, but Mayo Clinic recommends replacing them on a daily basis.

“There is not a concern about these types of masks having supply-chain disruptions that would interfere with our ability to do this,” he said.

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During the seven-day period ending Monday, federal data shows 460 new COVID cases were reported in Olmsted County.

Of the county residents testing positive for COVID during the period, 63 were hospitalized.

The county’s vaccination rate continues to increase, with the Minnesota Department of Health reporting 86.3% of eligible residents had received at least one dose of vaccine by Monday and 81.3% had completed the series.

While Mayo Clinic is encouraging people to replace cloth masks when visiting its hospitals and clinics, O’Horo said "good" masks don’t need to be tossed out.

“If you have a high-quality cloth mask, I don’t see any reason to be concerned about that in most settings,” he said. “The hospital and clinic (are) not a typical setting because of those vulnerable patients.”

“Out in the general public, a high-quality cloth mask is still a very reasonable option in many settings,” he added, noting the key is to properly wear a mask with multiple layers and good fit over the nose and mouth.

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