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L.A. school district, the nation’s second-largest, requires students to upgrade from cloth masks

The district says students are required to wear masks at all times on campus, including indoors and outdoors

Two girls leave a testing and vaccination site at a public school in Los Angeles. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
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Students in the nation’s second-largest school district will no longer be allowed to wear cloth masks on campus, according to new guidance posted ahead of the school week.

Los Angeles Unified School District students are required to wear “well-fitting, non-cloth masks with a nose wire” while at school, according to guidelines posted Friday on the district website. The site also notes that masks are required at all times — indoors and outdoors — and that all students and employees will be required to wear surgical-type or higher-quality masks.

The updated rules come as the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic, fueled by the omicron variant, has prompted renewed recommendations from public health experts and federal officials that people should wear more protective face coverings, including N95 or KN95 masks.

CDC says N95 masks offer far better protection than cloth masks against omicron variant

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided its most explicit guidance on masks earlier this month, noting that “loosely woven cloth products” provide the least protection. Well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer more protection, and well-fitting respirators, including N95s approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “offer the highest level of protection,” according to the CDC.

In Los Angeles, the school district said exemptions to mask rules are allowed for students who have a disability or a medical or mental health condition.

“Our in-school [coronavirus infection] rates have dropped but we are continuing to be diligent and agile in creating the safest learning environment,” district spokesperson Shannon Haber told the Los Angeles Times.

In a statement, the district told The Washington Post that it follows guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and monitors “school conditions daily.”

Particularly while case numbers are high and the omicron-fueled wave continues, “having that clear guidance and requirement is very much important,” said Krystal Pollitt, an assistant professor in the Yale School of Public Health.

Pollitt said it was not a surprise to see the school district adopt such a rule and that it “provides clear guidance in terms of what constitutes a mask that’s going to have a baseline level of protection.”

“Now that we’re seeing increasing cases in children and with the length of time they spend in the classroom with a large group of students, I think for them to have the right level of protection is important,” she said.

The school district said it will continue to provide such high-quality masks for students and employees if they need them. Masks will be available for students and staff as they enter their campuses.

How often can you safely reuse your KN95 or N95 mask?

California has repeatedly embraced stringent coronavirus measures in an effort to curb its spread. In October, the state became the first in the nation to announce that it would require vaccines in schools. In December, the state said it would once again require residents to wear masks in indoor public spaces — a measure that came amid an increase in omicron variant infections and that has since been extended until mid-February.

Earlier this month, California announced that it would distribute more than 20 million masks to continue to help schools across the state.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said it worked with the state’s education department to distribute masks to 51 county boards of education across the state, including more than 5 million to Los Angeles County.

Read more:

Across the region’s schools, a wildly varied treatment of masks

Seven school boards sue to stop Gov. Youngkin’s mask-optional order on the day it takes effect

Youngkin’s mask-optional order divides Virginia schools and parents, threatening chaos

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