Mask mandate in the Pit lifted for Lobo games - Albuquerque Journal

Mask mandate in the Pit lifted for Lobo games

The Pit crowd, some without masks, is seen at Thursday’s Colorado State-UNM men’s basketball game. The lifting of the indoor mask mandate meant fans didn’t have to wear masks — though as of Thursday, fans entering the Pit still needed proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID test. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Masks are no longer required to attend events in the Pit.

The University of New Mexico on Thursday announced the decision a couple hours after Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham caught many around the state off guard by announcing at a news conference in Santa Fe that she has lifted the state’s indoor mask mandate.

The UNM Lobos, fresh off beating No. 22 Wyoming in the Pit on Tuesday night, host Colorado State in the Pit on Thursday night at 7 p.m. — the first game this season the mask requirement will not be in place, though UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez asked that all fans be respectful of those who choose to still wear a mask.

“We are going to be allowing those individuals that do come into the Pit to make their own decision (on mask wearing), if they feel they need to do so. We will not be mandating it,” Nuñez said. “… We ask everybody to please respect those around them that actually do feel that this is their preference (to continue wearing a mask) and their decision to do so.”

He added he will still be wearing a mask and most of the UNM staff, especially those who are closely interacting with fans, will continue to wear masks for the time being.

UNM does still have in place, for now, a vaccination or negative COVID-19 test requirement to attend games in the Pit. That policy was put in place in mid-December when COVID-19 cases were again on the rise and UNM Hospital officials advised the university that a lack of available beds in their facility due to hospitalizations related to the virus were in crisis levels.

That policy for Lobo men’s and women’s basketball games, which would be in place during the March state high school basketball tournament games scheduled for the Pit if not changed before then, is still being discussed. Free testing for unvaccinated fans who want to attend the game is available at the Pit.

The number of people in New Mexico hospitalized due to the virus dropped by 37% since the end of January and was at 446 as of Wednesday, according to a press release sent out by the Governor’s Office.

New Mexico State University on Thursday afternoon also announced there are no longer any indoor mask requirements at sporting events in the Pan American Center and concession stands will be open again at future events. NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu had closed all concessions earlier this month when poor enforcement of the mask requirement in the facility was being blamed on the difficulty of enforcement in an environment where masks were allowed to be removed if fans were eating or drinking.

Nuñez said there is no specific timetable for when the future of the vaccination policy may be decided by university officials.

The next game in the Pit after Thursday is Saturday’s women’s game vs. Boise State. The next home game for the men’s team after Thursday is Feb. 26 vs. Air Force.

UNM is projecting a significant shortfall of basketball ticket sales this season in the Pit and Nuñez acknowledged he is hopeful this helps mitigate that, even though it is so late in the season. UNM refunded more than $60,000 in season ticket money after the mid-December vaccination requirement was put in place for fans who did not want to attend games due to that policy.

Check back here and in Friday’s Journal for more on how the lifting of the state’s mask mandate affects all sports in New Mexico.

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