Kudos to University of New Mexico athletics for taking proactive steps in combating the Delta and Omicron COVID-19 variants, especially with Mountain West Conference basketball games coming up.

Effective Tuesday, proof of vaccination or a negative test result will be required to watch UNM men’s and women’s basketball games live.

UNM cannot afford to cancel or postpone those events when there’s no logistical guarantee they can proceed safely at later dates.

UNM also cannot afford to see ticket revenue dwindle because of implementing a “no fans allowed” policy.

This is not UNM being political, nor should this matter have even become political. It’s about one thing and one thing only: public health.

“The university has a responsibility to our student-athletes, coaches, staff and the thousands of passionate Lobo fans to do what we can to protect the health and safety of those competing, coaching, working, watching and cheering the game,” UNM Director of Athletics Eddie Nunez said in a golobos.com press release.

UNM is crazy about basketball, especially the men’s. For the UNM-New Mexico State game Dec. 6, 13,019 people packed the house.

I attended the game, masked up as required. Yet, at least one guy a couple seats to my right did not wear a mask.

More people gathering means more risk of exposure from someone who may have contracted COVID-19.

Although I’m fully vaccinated and already had my booster, I felt a bit uneasy about it because I don’t know whether this person sitting nearby practices COVID-19 safety or is another person who could care less about those nearby.

Rio Rancho Observer reporter Matt Hollinshead

UNM must stand firm with the requirement, given the state of New Mexico’s faring better in its vaccination rates than some neighboring areas.

As of Dec. 20, the New Mexico Department of Health’s website reported that Bernalillo County and Sandoval County residents 18 and older are 78.4 and 81.1 percent fully vaccinated, respectively. Statewide, 75.5 percent of residents 18 and older are fully vaccinated as of Dec. 22.

As of Dec. 22, the Utah Department of Health’s website reported that 51.6 percent of people in Utah’s Bear River region, which includes Utah State University, are fully vaccinated.

As of Dec. 21, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s website reported that 61 percent of residents in El Paso County, home of the Air Force Academy, are fully vaccinated.

Utah State and Air Force are MWC foes, and UNM will play them.

Despite breakthrough cases, COVID vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna offer us the best form of protection from variants like Omicron.

Vaccines also give us the best chance of avoiding moderate to severe illness, helping us stay away from a hospital bed.

Pfizer reported lab tests showing a booster increased virus-fighting antibody levels 25-fold.

New Mexico’s hospital system is under too much strain, with 560 hospitalized for COVID-19 statewide as of Dec. 22, so a vaccination requirement can help alleviate some of that strain.

UNM made the right call by requiring proof of vaccination.

That’s ultimately what it’ll take to ensure games can go on and be safe.