Fact check: Cleveland Clinic never told employees cloth face masks 'don't work'

The claim: The Cleveland Clinic asked employees not to wear cloth face masks in its buildings because they "don't work"

On July 22, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced a statewide mask mandate requiring face masks be worn in nonresidential indoor spaces, outdoor locations without sufficient space for social distancing and on public transportation.

A post on Facebook that has been shared thousands of times claims that on the same day of the mandate, the Cleveland Clinic banned its employees from wearing cloth face masks.

"DeWine holds a press conference to tell Ohioans that masks are mandatory but Cleveland Clinic sends out an email today to inform their employees they can’t wear cloth masks in their building because they don’t work," the post reads, followed by a confused emoji.

Denise Pringle, the author of the post, told USA TODAY that her post was in reaction to multiple changes in guidance from the Cleveland Clinic on whether employees could wear cloth masks since the start of the pandemic. 

"Either they work or don’t work!!!!!" Pringle wrote.

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What Cleveland Clinic told employees

Andrea Pacetti, a media relations manager at the Cleveland Clinic, wrote in an email to USA TODAY that the post likely referred to the hospital's recently updated mask guidelines.

"As we approach influenza and respiratory virus season, our caregivers are now wearing face masks (surgical or ear loop) rather than cloth masks, inside our facilities," Pacetti wrote. "These masks provide an additional layer of protection from inhaling respiratory droplets, which is particularly important for those who work in a health care setting."

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However, Pacetti told USA TODAY that the change is not indicative of a belief at Cleveland Clinic that cloth face masks are ineffective.

"We still believe that cloth masks are a key way to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities," Pacetti wrote. "Some people with COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms, and may be spreading the virus unknowingly. A cloth mask can help individuals cover a cough or sneeze, reducing the spread of germs."

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Any cloth covering is better than no cloth covering.

Cleveland Clinic website supports benefits of cloth masks, too

Multiple articles on the website of the Cleveland Clinic also espouse the benefits of cloth face masks for average people.

One touches on the distinction between medical-grade masks and cloth masks.

"Cloth masks aren’t the same as surgical masks or N95 respirator masks, which are used by medical workers at high risk for being exposed to the coronavirus," the website reads. "Cloth masks may not prevent you from inhaling any particles that carry the coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth wearing one."

Why is that? Because they do prevent people from spreading the virus to others by reducing the number of microorganisms that they release into the air when they breathe, talk, cough, or sneeze, according to Dr. Aaron Hamilton, an internist at Cleveland Clinic. They also prevent you from touching your nose and mouth, which may be how the virus enters the body.

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In another article, Dr. Raed Dweik, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute, explained that the latest research shows that cloth face masks actually captured proteins that were smaller than coronavirus particles. Therefore, he said it’s reasonable to assume the masks are also capturing coronavirus particles and helping stop the spread of the virus.

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Our rating: False

Based on our research, the claim that the Cleveland Clinic told its employees cloth face masks "don't work" is FALSE. Cleveland Clinic and its doctors have repeatedly endorsed cloth mask usage. Though it instructed employees not to wear cloth masks in its facilities, guidance was issued with a mandate that they instead wear masks that have an "additional layer of protection" such as surgical or ear loop masks. 

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