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CLEVELAND (WJW) – As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge in Northeast Ohio, doctors are recommending wearing hospital-grade masks that are more effective at limiting spread of the virus.

The Ohio Department of Health said 20,917 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the 48-hour period ending Sunday afternoon.

Local hospitalizations continue to set records. The Ohio Hospital Association reports 1,320 COVID-positive patients are hospitalized in the region including Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula and Lorain counties.

That figure is up 11% from one week ago and up 38% from three weeks ago.

Doctors said mitigation measures including masking and social distancing are critical to slow the spread of the highly-contagious Omicron variant and keep hospitals from being further overwhelmed.

They said now is the time to upgrade from a cloth mask to a mask that’s more effective at reducing spread of the virus.

At the start of the pandemic, health officials said cloth masks could be worn amid a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment.

“I think the time is really here to retire the cloth mask,” said University Hospitals infectious disease specialist Dr. Amy Edwards.

Doctors suggest wearing a hospital-grade isolation mask — also referred to as a surgical mask — or a well-fitted N-95 or KN-95 mask that does not allow air gaps around your face.

“They would have to make sure it’s extremely well fitted,” Edwards said of N-95 and KN-95 masks.

Edwards said it’s also important to ensure a surgical mask is made by a reputable manufacturer and provides waterproofing to prevent the spread of droplets.

If you do wear a cloth mask it should be high quality and have at least two layers, health experts said.