The University of New Mexico is requiring a three-ply or better medical-grade mask when indoors, made effective Tuesday, Jan. 17. This decision, which updated the previous mask policy that allowed cloth masks, was made in response to the recent surge of COVID-19 cases and the increased infectiousness of the omicron variant.
According to UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair, Student Affairs will be distributing proper masks across campus for students struggling to source proper masks or otherwise do not currently have appropriate masks.
Masks will be distributed in high-traffic classroom buildings on campus, as well as in the Student Union Building and Johnson Gym.
“There will also be a group of student mask ambassadors in the common areas of those classroom buildings handing masks out to students that need them … Masks are also being distributed to the college/school dean offices for distribution to the departments on campus, and there will be some in the Provost’s Office as well,” Blair wrote to the Daily Lobo.
As with initial mask protocols, failure to adhere to the updated mask protocols may result in being asked to leave class, with a possibility of being dropped from the class as well as disciplinary action if failure to adhere occurs multiple times. Blair, however, does not anticipate any major adherence problems.
“Quite honestly, we never had any problems with mask compliance that I know of. It’s basically the same process as our current mask requirements, because we just updated the definition of ‘proper mask-wearing,’” Blair said.
This decision came in response to the dire infection rates attributed to the omicron variant. During a press conference on Jan. 12, Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, said that “virtually everybody” would eventually be exposed and likely infected by the omicron variant. Data shows, however, that those who are vaccinated and boosted are far less likely to exhibit symptoms.
“As always, we are continuing to take a data-driven, evidence-based approach to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our campuses and across our community,” UNM President Garnett Stokes wrote in a President’s Weekly Perspective email on Jan. 10.
UNM has already mandated the booster shot for all students, staff and faculty. Those who were fully vaccinated on or before Oct. 15, 2021 must have uploaded proof of vaccination by Tuesday, Jan. 17.
As of Sunday, Jan. 16, only 28.6% of the student population were confirmed to be boosted. Over half of faculty and staff confirmed that they received a booster shot. On Jan. 10, a record 30 confirmed positive cases were reported to the COVID dashboard in a single day (although, notably, none of these cases reported coming to campus).
Blair advised students to ensure a proper fit for their masks in addition to upgrading. UNM Newsroom published an article that can be found online that includes a tutorial by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to improve the fit of a three-ply health-grade mask.
“We’re following the science that talks about how these types of masks that we’re asking people to wear protect against those smaller aerosols better than a cloth mask,” Blair said. “If people want to wear their cloth masks over the required medical-grade, health-grade masks to enhance the fit, then they can wear it over it but they can’t wear it alone.”
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Blair said the University’s decision to require upgrades for the masks was, overall, in the interest of keeping students safe while ensuring their educational experience is minimally compromised.
“We want our students to be able to have that in-person experience and the way we can do that is (by) keeping our community safe,” Blair said.
Zara Roy is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle