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Patients and visitors at the Mayo Clinic will now be asked to wear a medical-grade mask instead of a cloth face mask. 

The renowned Rochester-based medical clinic updated its mask policy on Wednesday in response to the highly contagious omicron variant that's causing COVID-19 cases to surge in Minnesota and across the country. 

Mayo says this a masking "standardization" is necessary due to the "variability" in performance of cloth masks, and due to patients and visitors wearing a "wide range" of face coverings. 

Several studies have shown single-layer cloth masks, neck gaiters and bandanas don't provide "optimal protection" against COVID, and due to omicron spreading, there is an "urgent need to strengthen all layers of protection against COVID-19," Mayo said. 

"This is a proactive change to reduce the risk of transmission on our campuses, and ensure a safe environment for our most vulnerable patients," Mayo Clinic Infectious Diseases Expert Dr. John O'Horo said in a statement to KIMT. "The medical-surgical masks, the disposable ones that we use in the hospital and clinic setting, are verified to meet a certain standard that we know is going to be very effective at source control and containing transmission."

So, anyone who goes to Mayo will be offered a surgical/procedural mask when they check in or go through the screening process. Depending on the type of mask, patients and visitors will either be asked to wear a surgical mask or be required to switch to a medical-grade mask. 

  • Anyone who is wearing an "unacceptable mask" — masks with exhalation valves, neck gaiter or bandana — will be required to wear a medical-grade mask (surgical/procedural, N-95 or KN-95).
  • Those who wear other non-medical grade masks, such as a cloth mask, will be asked but not required to wear a Mayo-provided mask instead of their 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," Mayo said. 

Consistent masking with an appropriate mask, as well as getting the COVID-19 vaccine/getting boosted and physical distancing, provide protection against COVID and the omicron variant, Mayo said.

In addition to updating its masking policy, Mayo Clinic said Thursday it is implementing stricter hospital visitor guidelines at the Rochester clinic to "protect the health and safety of patients and staff amid the surge in COVID-19 cases."

One "consistent" visitor per patient will be allowed at the Rochester facility for daytime visits, ER visits and surgeries or procedures. This new rule goes in effect on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. 

Visitors will be screened for symptoms before being allowed to enter, Mayo says. 

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