MILWAUKEE — Cloth masks are no longer allowed at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center or at its community clinics.
The Milwaukee VA announced Monday that people must wear medical-grade cough, surgical, procedural or N95/KN95 masks.
Medical/surgical-grade masks will be available at entrances to all of their facilities.
The concern is that regular cotton masks do not offer enough protection against the coronavirus, amid a winter surge in cases and hospitalizations in southeast Wisconsin.
"It's not a magic mask. It's about trying to reduce the transmission of the virus and taking care of ourselves and our veterans and each other," said Dr. Ankur Patel, incident commander and dental service chief at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.
Just this week the city of Milwaukee began handing out 500,000 N95 masks to residents, to help slow the spread of the virus.
An N95 fits closely to the face and provides a higher level of protection compared to loosely fitting cloth masks, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
"All masks work but they work to varying degrees," said Tim Bertram, professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Bertram was not surprised about changes to mask preferences given the current surge in COVID.
"A cloth mask may work to the extent that it may block say 30% of the viruses that come out. Now that's a widely varying number because of all of the different forms of masks that you have," Bertram said. "When you step up to N95 masks like what I have here, this is 95% protection from inhaling something or protection for somebody that's around you if you happen to be positive."
Both Bertram and Dr. Patel agreed now is the time to upgrade your mask.