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Cloth no longer makes the cut so UNM will require medical grade masks

surgical face masks
Marco Verch Professional Photographer
A pile of surgical face masks.

Even though the University of New Mexico reported a 92% vaccination rate last semester there has been a spike in positive COVID-19 cases already in 2022. With more than 13,000 students expected to return to the Albuquerque campus for face-to-face classes next week, UNM announced new safety protocols they hope will keep people safe from the virus.

UNM this week told students and employees at all campuses to up their mask game for the start of the Spring semester because of spiking infection numbers and the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19.

The two-ply cloth masks that had become the norm are proving insufficient to protect from omicron. In response, UNM will require medical-grade masks be worn indoors starting January 18. Those are the three-ply surgical masks that are fairly inexpensive, and the N95 style masks that cost a little more, but provide the highest level of protection.

UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair said the administration confers regularly with experts at the Health Sciences Center on safety protocols.

“We’re anticipating that high level of transmissibility. We really want people to have the best, and that is going to be this type of mask.” 

UNM will have “mask ambassadors” at high traffic areas and in many large classroom buildings next week to give surgical masks to students who need them. Some of the places on campus to get masks are the Student Union Building, Johnson Gym, Mitchell Hall, Dane Smith Hall, Woodward Hall and in the Collaborative Teaching and Learning Building in the center of campus.

History Department administrator Yolanda Martinez said her office has a small stockpile of masks from earlier in the pandemic that they will distribute to instructors to share with students in need next week.

Blair said the deans’ offices are also working to get masks out to the academic departments so instructors will have extras on hand.

There are disciplinary measures in place for students or staff who disregard the COVID-19 safety measures with penalties as severe as dissenrollment for students and termination for staff who fail to show proof of vaccination and dropping students from classes for multiple instances of mask violations.

This segment is part of our #YourNMGov project, a collaboration between KUNM radio and New Mexico PBS. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.