The University of New Mexico’s Student Activities Center and their Student Government Accounting Office have made the decision to suspend in-person operations until Sunday, Sept. 26; similarly, UNM’s Greek life has placed a restriction on in-person activities until Friday, Sept. 24. These decisions came after confirmed COVID-19 cases within SAC, the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico and Greek life.
Though these organizations have struggled to pinpoint a source for the recent cases, the two confirmed positive cases in ASUNM are believed to have resulted from students who tested positive then failed to follow up with Student Health and Counseling, according to ASUNM President Greg Romero. SAC director Ryan Lindquist also said that although they couldn’t verify the source of the new cases, it is a very minimal amount in relation to the amount of people in these communities and did not start any kind of outbreak within the organizations.
“In this case, we had a small amount of people (within the SAC/SGAO/ASUNM community) test positive who had attended meetings indoors in person,” Lindquist said. “Everyone in those meetings was masked, but out of an abundance of precaution, we decided with a slower week of programs, it would be best to make sure we mitigate any potential spread in our involved student community.”
The suspension of in-person operations at ASUNM and SAC started on Monday, and Greek life’s suspension started last Friday.
“We felt as though a week of working virtually would be proactive in mitigating the spread,” Romero said. “And I think that is kind of a model we would adapt if we did have a larger outbreak … We are prepared as a staff to go virtual if needed.”
Greek life director Chris Brooks said a “small number of positive cases” was reported within several Greek organizations but, similarly to ASUNM and SAC, Greek life has struggled to pinpoint the source of the recent increase in cases.
“Students in Greek life are some of the most involved on-campus, so there is no way to pinpoint exactly where the exposures may be coming from,” Brooks said.
Both Romero and Brooks maintain that their respective organizations have adhered closely to the University’s COVID-19 safety guidelines. However, the active nature of ASUNM and Greek life in the campus community makes exposure much more difficult to avoid.
“All events have required COVID safety plans to be submitted prior to final approval,” Brooks said. “Events have all been conducted in accordance with local and CDC guidelines and restrictions. We have also held as many events outdoors as possible.”
Romero said that ASUNM adheres to all of the precautions the University is taking, including wearing masks and social distancing.
“Advocating for vaccinations is another thing we’ve really tried to push at ASUNM, just so we can be as safe as we possibly can within our offices,” Romero said.
According to Romero, ASUNM’s temporary virtual move only applies to their office operations, with campus programming for the week continuing on as scheduled and meetings being moved outdoors when possible. Both ASUNM and SAC plan to return in person on Sept. 27, following the same guidelines as before the outbreak.
“(SAC is) expecting to resume some in-person events this weekend, and be back in our offices on Monday,” Lindquist said. “We were being very cautious in order to stop any potential spread in our communities, but it seems to me that guidance around being masked and socially distanced did help to control the spread in this case.”
In preparation for future outbreaks, Greek life will continue to offer virtual alternatives to in-person events and “continue to monitor the situation in our community, on campus, and in the state to make determinations about the safety of future events,” according to Brooks.
Romero said ASUNM will implement one-week in-person office suspensions in the event of another similar cluster of confirmed cases as well as inform and encourage staff to follow SHAC’s COVID-19 testing and self-reporting guidelines.
“We don’t really have any plans to go fully virtual unless there (is) a regulation by the University to do so,” Romero said.
Driving this push to move back in person is a general consensus among ASUNM and Greek life that in-person operations have vastly improved connection and morale among the student organizations.
“There is no question that being in-person has significant value to the student experience. As social organizations, fraternities and sororities depend upon connection,” Brooks said. “While those connections continued virtually while restrictions were in place, just like all students, they have been enhanced being back in-person.”
Lindquist echoed this positive sentiment towards in-person operations, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think students gain so much from in-person social and educational opportunities,” Lindquist said. “Students and staff seem happier and healthier since the return to in-person activities.”
Zara Roy is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle