UNM professor awarded grant to study COVID spread among miners

Coronavirus New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Miners already have to deal with lung issues and they work in confined spaces, now a University of New Mexico professor is launching a study on the spread of coronavirus at New Mexico mines. The study will take place at the El Segundo Coal Mine near Grants.

Doctor Akshay Sood says it should begin in January. “We wanted to choose a group of people who cannot practice safe distance, telecommuting and flexible schedules,” said Dr. Sood. His study will require each miner at the El Segundo Coal Mine to be tested at the start of every other shift. Doctor Sood who specializes in mining-related lung problems, wants to document their increased risk of catching and spreading the virus.

They will be using an antigen test because they yield quicker resutls, which Sood says will help keep the mine open, and save jobs. “That means the rural economies can stay humming during the pandemic,” said Dr. Sood.

Each miner will complete their own test before submitting it to the occupational safety and health team on site. Sood says the results should come back within 15-minutes. If someone does test positive those quick results will help the team make a fast decision and infected workers can go into quarantine.

If the study is successful, Dr. Sood says they could implement similar practices at other mines and rural workplaces across New Mexico, to help keep workers safe, and keep the businesses open. The study is being paid for by a $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

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