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A Minnesota physicians group says other cities and towns should follow Minneapolis and St. Paul in issuing a public face mask mandate.

The Minnesota Medical Association said in a statement Thursday that is "fully supports" the new mask requirements in both cities, which go into effect at 5 p.m. Thursday. The new rules require individuals to wear a face mask when in public or city-owned spaces.

Mayors Jacob Frey and Melvin Carter each cited the ongoing COVID surge, fueled by the omicron variant, as the reason for the emergency orders.

The Minnesota Medical Association believes these requirements, or ones like them, should be put in place elsewhere.

"We urge other communities to consider similar actions," the organization said in its statement. "Wearing well-fitted masks is a valuable strategy in our ongoing fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 and the highly contagious omicron variant." 

There's been a lot of hand-wringing about the effectiveness of face masks during omicron's rapid spread, particularly cloth masks, with headlines urging people to ditch, toss or upgrade their cloth face coverings in favor of surgical masks or NIOSH-approved N95s. (KN95s, certified in China, are also commonly recommended.)

Omicron is more transmissible than previous strains of the coronavirus. Cloth face masks offer the least protection compared to medical-grade surgical masks or filtered N95s/KN95, NY Mag explains. One Harvard associate professor said to think of them in terms of tiers, with N95s up top, surgical masks in the middle and cloth masks at the bottom.

But in any scenario, a cloth mask is better than nothing.

“Let’s say we have a 50% effective cloth mask, you and I both wear one, the combined efficiency going through two filters is 75%. That’s pretty good,” the assistant professor told WGBH. “Two surgical masks is 70%, combined efficiency is 91%.”

CNN, in a story that quotes a medical analyst as saying cloth masks are "little more than facial decorations," even qualifies that view to say people should not go maskless.

Cloth masks with high thread count and multiple layers do provide some protection, the CDC has said. Just not as much as those higher-grade options.

Fit is also vital. A loose N95 with lots of air gaps isn't going to offer great protection either, experts say.

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