Mirroring many other universities across the country in lack of transparency, the University of New Mexico is refusing to disclose how many students living in on-campus housing have tested positive for COVID-19.

Responding to a question from the Daily Lobo about which dorms have had outbreaks and how many students who live on campus have tested positive, Sarah Scott, a spokesperson for UNM Institutional Support Services which UNM Residence Life and Student Housing falls under, said the University will not release those details “to protect student privacy.”

Melanie Majors, the executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said that universities nationwide are abusing federal privacy laws as an excuse to not disclose coronavirus data.

“Schools incorrectly are citing federal privacy laws that are shrouding what students and faculty need to know about the virus on their campuses,” Majors said. 

The privacy laws universities are citing are the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But Majors said these laws don’t apply to overall coronavirus campus data, like how many cases there are among students who live on campus.

Responding to a follow-up from the Daily Lobo, Scott said she was waiting to hear back from several people who might be able to talk about the University’s decision, adding that she wasn’t involved in the decision-making process.

As of Sunday, Oct. 11, the UNM dashboard reported 62 positive cases among students, faculty and staff at UNM’s main and branch campuses, with 14 of those reported in the last two weeks.

“UNM has put into place many measures for the safety of our campus community during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Scott said. “Students, faculty and staff receive daily emails to report whether they have any symptoms of the disease and whether or not they are intending to come to campus.”

There are 144 beds available in the Student Residence Center for students who test positive and have to isolate. Students with meal plans can have their food delivered to their door in a non-contact method. If a student does not have a meal plan, a friend or service can deliver food to them, as long as it’s in a contactless manner.

UNM’s COVID FAQ website states that if a student thinks that they have contracted COVID-19, they should call Student Health and Counseling for an initial screening. If additional screening is needed, the individual schedules an appointment at the outdoor testing center at the C parking lot, which is not open to the public.

Individuals who come onto UNM’s campus and display any symptoms related to COVID-19 are required to self-report and may be asked to do additional tests.

“UNM is also tracking information on members of our community that test positive for COVID-19, either through services at UNM or self-reported, and are fully cooperating with the state’s contact tracing efforts,” Scott said.

UNM has a COVID-19 dashboard that is used to track the number of students, faculty and staff who have tested positive either through UNM-sponsored testing or through self-reporting of results of testing administered elsewhere, meaning that there may be more cases the University is unaware of.

Spencer Butler is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @SpencerButler48

Bella Davis is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @bladvs