A Roswell meatpacking plant has had 21 of its employees test positive for COVID-19, according to the New Mexico Environment Department.
Jose Madrid, the owner of USA Beef Packing LLC, said he is cooperating with the state as it investigates what has caused that number of cases.
“We have pretty much ceased operations. I mean, we are at about 10%,” he said. “They (the Environment Department) are giving instructions on how to deal with it.”
According to the Rapid Response daily reports issued by the Environment Department, the company reported its first positive test on July 28.
By July 31, the number of positive tests reported was two. The number jumped by five on Aug. 1 to seven positives, and then reached eight on Monday. By late Wednesday afternoon, the count was 21.
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The company had been closed for a while after the first July 28 positive test and all employees were to be tested, according to Maddy Hayden, a public information officer with the Environment Department. She added that it is the department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau that is looking into the situation.
That is the largest number of positive tests that have been reported to the state by any one job location in the area, according to the Rapid Response reports.
That list shows that 43 job sites in Chaves County have had COVID-19 positive tests among employees since May 11, but the other sites have indicated only one or two cases.
The published list shows when employees or employers report cases to the state, but there is no indication of how the employee is thought to have become infected or if they were working at the job site around the time when they tested positive.
USA Beef Packing has a slaughter and packing plant on Cedarvale Road in the eastern part of the city. It also has acquired a site in the 1600 block of South Main Street that it intends to use only for processing and packaging meat.
The state list gives the Cedarvale Road address for the information about the positive COVID-19 tests.
The company began operating at the Cedarvale Road plant in August 2017 and is owned by Madrid and his family. They and their employees process beef and bison, handling from 100 to 300 head a day. It is the only beef and bison plant approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in eastern New Mexico.
In previous interviews, a quality control officer for the company said that the plant follows all the guidelines required by the USDA regarding food and employee safety and that the company was practicing COVID-prevention methods, including taking employees’ temperatures each day before they begin their shifts.
The company website has posted the following undated statement:
“We at USA Beef Packing understand the importance of continuing our essential service; to deliver safe and nutritional food to the world. As operations continue, we want to assure you that we are taking all precautions and necessary steps to ensure our food supply is safe.
“We are prioritizing the health and protection of our employees as they play a critical role in the operation of our facility and safety. This includes actively abiding by state, local and federal regulations regarding health protocols. We have been thorough in providing updated information to our employees regarding the virus and encourage employees to avoid coming to work and seek medical care if they are experiencing symptoms.”
According to comments made July 23 at a video press conference by New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney, employers are contacted by state Rapid Response workers usually within one day after the Occupational Safety and Health Bureau learns of a positive test among a company’s employees.
He said five common actions usually occur at a job site after a COVID-19 notification: a temporary ceasing of operations, which is tailored to the employer and might not mean a complete shutdown of business activity; the testing of employees and quarantining of COVID-19 positive people; retesting after seven to 10 days; and disinfecting of facilities, either partially or fully, depending on the situation.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.