You may have to hang up your cloth mask. (photo by Bertran Fan via Flickr)

As the world grapples with the fast-spreading Omicron variant, health experts are increasingly recommending the use of medical-grade masks instead of cloth face coverings to help prevent coronavirus transmission. While there are no local, state, or federal laws that mandate the use of certain masks over others, one West Coast museum has taken matters into its own hands, revamping its masking policy this week.

The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is now asking visitors to arrive wearing a surgical, KN95, N95, or KF94 face mask. If the visitor does not have one of the approved masks, MOCA can provide a surgical mask, a museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic.

“Cloth masks, neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas, and face coverings containing valves, mesh material, or holes of any kind are not acceptable,” the museum said in an Instagram post.

The move came shortly after the California Department of Public Health published updated guidance ranking the effectiveness of masks, with N95 masks being the gold standard. KF94s and KF95s came in second, while fabric masks “with three or more cloth layers” were labeled as “least effective.”

Wearing any mask is better than none in curbing the spread of COVID-19, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) has not changed its guidelines to rule out cloth masks at this stage. However, research shows that some face coverings are significantly more protective than others: a recent study found that the risk of transmission can be reduced by a factor of 75 when both the infectious and susceptible individuals are wearing wear N95-style masks (compared to regular surgical masks).

Institutions and businesses are finding ways to adapt to the rapidly-changing virus panorama as Omicron cases continue to soar nationwide. Like MOCA, several universities have also banned cloth face coverings, while the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City is requiring booster shots for all its employees.

But don’t toss your cloth mask just yet: MOCA says you can still wear one, so long as it’s combined with a medical-grade option. The LA museum and many others continue to sell artist-designed cloth coverings at their gift shops. Double-masking is only recommended for surgical masks; N95 masks should not be used with any other face coverings.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is Co-Editor of News at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...