Provide N95 masks to all UT employees

Lucero Ponce, Columnist

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the February 11 flipbook.

With Austin in stage five of the COVID-19 pandemic, UT must take new measures to protect its students, faculty and staff. The University encourages wearing a mask indoors and is supplying surgical masks to all its employees who are working on campus. However, UT only supplies N95 masks to employees in health care environments.

While this effort is a good start, it should change following the CDC’s new masking recommendations. UT should update the type of masks they supply and offer all employees N95 masks as they provide more protection than disposable masks.

The CDC recently updated their masking guidelines to say that N95s offer greater protection than surgical and cloth masks. UT followed the CDC’s guidance on lowering the isolation time, so they should also follow the new masking guidance. The University should not pick and choose which recommendations they follow.

In an emailed statement, Eliska Padilla, issues and communications manager for the University, explained why some employees receive N95s, while others receive surgical masks.

“National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved N95 masks are made available to employees in higher-risk environments, specifically health care environments, for individuals providing medical care to patients during COVID,” Padilla said. “These entities already had procurement in place prior to COVID, for obtaining N95 masks, because they have always been used when providing care to patients.”

Although it is reassuring that employees in health care environments are receiving the proper personal protective equipment, there is still more that needs to be done. All employees on campus deserve the best available protective equipment. To suggest that only individuals in a health care setting need N95s is not acceptable considering UT doesn’t know individual employees’ health situations. 

Even the Biden administration is supplying Americans with N95s, no matter their occupation. Every employee is putting their health at risk when working on a campus with a population of over 50,000 students, so UT should supply all its employees with N95s, regardless of their position.

“I don’t have N95s currently … but (the University) definitely has the funds to provide N95 masks. So I would definitely appreciate and would take advantage if they did supply N95 masks,” Griffin Mosqueda, sociology sophomore and dining student assistant, said. “I think it would definitely be helpful for all the employees.”

It would benefit everyone if UT begins supplying N95 masks to staff and faculty.

“I mean, it’s not just the (employees),” Mosqueda said. “It’s better for the customers as well. … I assume they would appreciate it if we kept it professional and safe.”

Instead of basing which employees receive higher quality masks based on their position, UT should supply all its employees with N95 masks or give all departments the option to specifically request N95 masks. It is the responsibility of the University, as an employer, to provide all employees the basic necessities required for protection during the pandemic.

Ponce is a journalism freshman from Laredo, Texas.