Los Angeles

Omicron: Cloth masks provide ‘the least protection’ amid surge, CDC says, hospitals feeling strain

LOS ANGELES (KABC) — As the Omicron variant tears through Southern California, the CDC is now updating its guidance telling Americans that cloth masks provide “the least protection,” while surgical masks, N95s, and KN95s, can offer more.

“They’re better because they fit better. They have more layers of protection built into them,” said Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

Ferrer says “fit” is most important, which is why she wears a KF94 mask.

“It fits really, really tightly over your nose, under your chin,” she said.

Added protection is a top concern as the Los Angeles Unified School District struggles with absences. Officials say that nearly a third of students missed school after the winter break. A rapid rise in cases in the Culver City Unified School District prompted school closures next week to give students and staff time to “recoup and recover.”

“This isn’t that every school is going to shut down at all. This is a situation that in some schools, it may be untenable,” Ferrer said.

Across Southern California, about 70 percent of staffed beds are occupied. San Bernardino is the highest at 81 percent. In L.A. County, more than 4,200 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, with about 25 percent of them needing ICU care. Ferrer says emergency rooms are being taxed the most.

“Please do not go to an ER if you need a test or if you have a mild illness. We’ve had lots and lots of hospitals go on what we call ‘diversion.’ They can’t take any more patients,” she said.

What’s the difference between N95 and KN95 masks? Expert explains what you need to know

Efforts to expand test sites are underway, but Ferrer said not everyone needs to test.

“It’s most important to get tested right now if you have symptoms or you know you were a close contact. So those are two groups that really should do their very best to get tested,” explained Ferrer.

If you have mild symptoms, health officials say you should check with your own primary doctor or go to a local clinic, especially because emergency rooms are overwhelmed.

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