Mayo Clinic urges patients, visitors to ditch cloth masks

Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic is prohibiting certain types of face coverings and urging patients and visitors to ditch the cloth versions, citing the variability in cloth mask performance.

Certain face coverings are now prohibited at Mayo Clinic. The health system will require patients and visitors masked by face coverings with exhalation valves or by gaiters and bandannas to don a surgical, N-95 or KN-95 mask, which Mayo Clinic will provide if needed. 

Cloth masks are discouraged. The system will offer medical-grade masks to patients or visitors who are wearing cloth face coverings and ask, but not require, them to wear it instead of the cloth mask. "Patients and visitors may choose to wear their surgical/procedural mask over a cloth mask if they prefer for reasons of comfort and fit, with the surgical mask on the outside," the system said in a statement. 

The efficacy of cloth masks has faced greater scrutiny from public health experts amid the fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19. Experts have noted that unlike medical-grade masks, single-layer cloth masks offer minimal filtration and do not meet any kind of filtration efficiency standards.

Mayo Clinic cited questions around cloth masks as the reason for stricter masking rules. 

"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. Single-layer cloth masks, neck gaiters and bandannas are commonly worn, for example, and do not provide optimal protection to help ensure the health and safety of all," the system said.

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