On Monday, June 20, the University of New Mexico administration announced that three-ply surgical masks or better are now recommended, but not required, indoors for all students, faculty and staff at the Albuquerque, Gallup and Valencia campuses, effective June 21. This new recommendation comes in response to the three respective counties the campuses are located in reaching “high COVID-19 community levels” as categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This recommendation applies to all indoor events at the University unless otherwise indicated, including the ongoing New Student Orientation sessions throughout the summer, according to UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair.
The seven-day trailing average of cases between all UNM campuses reached 16.714, the highest average since February, according to the UNM COVID dashboard. As of Wednesday, June 22, the average was 13 cases.
“It's not a mandate, in this case, just a recommendation, so at the end of the day,
it's kind of just a signal of, ‘Hey, COVID is kind of spiking, and try and be careful,’” Ian May, president of the Associated Students of UNM, said.
The recommendation is in line with what the CDC recommends for high COVID-19 community level counties; they suggest that masks be worn indoors at all times, regardless of vaccination status. There are, however, no current government mask regulations at the state or federal level.
“For communities in this category (“COVID-19 community levels high”), the CDC recommends wearing a mask while indoors in public. There are no state or federal requirements for masks applicable to the general UNM campus at this time. Additionally, our current rates of vaccination at UNM continue to be high. Anyone with concerns is encouraged to wear one voluntarily, and members of the community are encouraged to be respectful of others’ preferences,” Blair wrote to the Daily Lobo.
Community levels are determined by case rate, new hospital admissions and percentage of inpatient beds filled by COVID-19 patients. As of Thursday, June 23, the weekly case rate in Bernalillo county was 331.31 cases per 100,000 population, with 12.7 admissions per 100,000 population. The University is following these CDC guidelines in determining masking policy and monitoring cases closely, according to Blair.
“I do think that a lot of the recommendation comes from when (an) area like Albuquerque has hit the red classification by the CDC, it is the recommendation that you wear masks,
and that's kind of just what UNM was following there. But they also decided not to get in the mandate. So I think it's a very amicable solution right now, especially since there are less classes going on with students on campus and whatnot,” May said.
May is supportive of the new mask mandate, especially given his workload this summer meeting many students through orientation and working in closely crowded office spaces.
“I think that for a lot of students, (the recommendation) kind of just signals taking COVID seriously in this moment. (The Provost’s Office) talked a little bit about the language and how they should word it, and I think the recommendation that they decided to go with is definitely something that I'm behind as a student,” May said.
Going forward, the University will continue to require vaccinations. Blair emphasized the importance of receiving the vaccine in reducing the symptom severity of cases.
“We will continue to require full vaccination, unless one has an approved exemption. While COVID-19 viral transmission remains high in some counties where we have a campus presence and newer versions of the Omicron variant can more easily infect even vaccinated persons, vaccination continues to markedly reduce adverse outcomes of infection in most people,” Blair wrote.
Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle