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Could a steam bath freshen my face mask?

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I saw on the news that nurses and doctors are re-using masks and at the end of their shift they slather the mask with hand sanitizer to disinfect it. Couldn’t they just throw a bunch into an autoclave? Or would that just burn up the masks? -- K.B.

That's some creative thinking. I sent this question to the spokespeople at Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center last week and didn't get a response.

But as luck would have it, over the weekend, Dr. Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota co-authored an opinion piece in the New York Times touching on a number of elements of the public response to the pandemic, including supply and conservation of protective masks. The online version of that article contains a link to a Centers for Disease Control document titled " Recommended Guidance for Extended Use and Limited Reuse of N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators in Healthcare Settings ."

I read that document from top to bottom, and I found nothing in there about autoclaves, or frankly any form of antiviral treatment for face masks. I did find a set of recommendations for reuse of masks, and here was the business end of that, for our purpose: "Discard N95 respirators following close contact with any patient co-infected with an infectious disease requiring contact precautions." Period.

Why? Some masks are not FDA-cleared for reuse. Some are designed for a single use only. But, the CDC document goes on to say, some protective masks can, in fact, be reused, but only under the infection control policies developed individually at facilities. So it's a local decision. (Note: You can read my article online to follow web links to Osterholm's op-ed and the CDC guidelines.)

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Is hand sanitizer, or is an autoclave, a good improvisational technique to stretch supplies and get us through a tough time? I cannot say. My knowledge is vast, but even I must defer to the real medical experts when it comes to life-and-death questions such as this.

We hear the number of positive cases of the COVID-19 virus by MN counties each day plus the number of people tested statewide & deaths. Who reports those figures to the media? -- Curious in Kasson

Those numbers come to us each day via daily media briefings conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health. MDH receives its information from health care providers and local (county) public health departments throughout the state.

By this point, since we know community transmission of the virus is taking place, the real value of the numbers is to illuminate the trends. Is the case count going up or down? Is the change fast or slow? The statewide daily number comes out each day around 11 a.m., and the Post Bulletin is reporting that figure, as opposed to any updated numbers that might feasibly come out, for the same reason that you'd measure lake depth at the same spot on the lake every day. You want a consistent basis for comparison.

I'm getting a little fatigued by pandemic news. Is there anything cheerful you can tell us about?

Absolutely. Here's one: Hattie, the peregrine falcon who nests atop the Mayo Building, has laid her first egg of the season. You can check out Hattie and her mate, Orton, from the comfort of quarantine on the web: http://history.mayoclinic.org/tours-events/mayo-clinic-peregrine-falcon-program.php , or just use this shortened address I made for you: tinyurl.com/k4cyz26.

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