Mayo changes mask requirements

Published 8:30 pm Thursday, December 30, 2021

By Alex Guerrero

Because of the surge in COVID-19 cases, changes are coming to the way Mayo Clinic operates at all of its campuses.

“Nationwide we’re seeing increased transmission with the omicron variant,” said Dr. John O’Horo, an internist, critical care and infectious disease specialist at Mayo. “Mayo Clinic has continuously assessed appropriate measures to ensure a safe environment for patients, staff and visitors throughout the pandemic.”

Recently, the hospital system reevaluated its mask practices.

“Masking, particularly source masking, has shown a consistent benefit for reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19,” he said. “However, we know that masks have different qualities.”

So starting this week, the clinic will require visitors, patients and staff wearing bandanas, neck gaiters or masks with exhalation valves to use Mayo Clinic-provided medical or surgical masks.

Because of logistics, the mask policy could vary from site-to-site and could possibly begin later this week or next.

Other visitors and patients will be offered surgical or medical masks as alternatives to self-provided cloth masks.

“This is a proactive change to reduce the risk of transmission in our campus and ensure a safe environment for our most vulnerable patients,” he said.

Staff are already wearing the required masks, with in-patient staff wearing additional personal protective equipment.

O’Horo was quick to compliment the benefits of cloth masks, but said medical masks are verified to meet certain standards for source control and containing transmission.

“If you have a high-quality cloth mask I don’t see any reason to be concerned about that in most settings,” he said. He defined high-quality as those with multiple layers and a good fit.

Except the hospital, with its vulnerable patients, isn’t a typical setting.

“It’s not practical to evaluate each individual cloth mask as it comes through,” he said. “That’s why we’ll be offering this to visitors and patients as an alternative — to try to make sure that we’re giving that to anyone who has questions about their mask performance.”

O’Horo recommends throwing away medical/surgical masks on a daily basis, though he said they’re typically good until soiled or damaged.

The new policy will be evaluated on a weekly basis.