SUNLAND PARK, N.M. – Several dozen workers at a meat processing plant in southern New Mexico have tested positive for coronavirus as state health officials plan another round of testing at the facility.
Health officials also say they are beginning to look more closely at whether younger people without symptoms are potentially spreading the virus.
The New Mexico Health Department on Thursday announced that 57 cases of COVID-19 have been identified at Stampede Meat in Sunland Park. The agency conducted two rounds of testing at the plant over two weeks this month at the invitation of the company, taking samples from every employee. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that a third round of testing is expected next week.
The employees who tested positive were reported to be self-isolating, and health officials say they’ve been working with the company on protocols for disinfecting the facility and providing personal protective equipment to staff.
Illinois-based Stampede Meat opened the plant in the former Tyson Foods location in 2018. It began operations with 300 employees with plans to expand to a workforce of nearly 1,300 by 2024.
Stampede CEO Brock Furlong said in a statement that the company in early March adopted more safety measures to limit spread and continues to add initiatives based on federal guidelines and recommendations. The first case at the plant was reported in early May.
Stampede said its processing facilities are cleaned and sanitized daily, with high-touch areas sanitized every half hour. Employees and visitors are screened and have their temperatures taken before entering. Employees also are instructed to wear layered protection including face masks, neck warmers and face shields.
According to Stampede, 7.5% of the plant’s employees tested positive in the first round. Of those, most were reportedly asymptomatic. The company said 90% of those first cases have recovered.
In the second round, less than 5% of the staff tested positive. The company said those workers were still recovering and would be re-tested and cleared by a medical professional before returning to work.
New Mexico has nearly 6,500 cases, and health officials say an increasing number of people who are 19 and younger have contracted COVID-19.
Children and teenagers make up about 13% of the state’s positive COVID-19 cases, up from 7% a few weeks ago and about four times higher than the national average, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
The state could have more cases involving children because other communities across the country are not testing the same cross-section of their population, health officials said.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Children are more likely than adults to show mild or no symptoms, officials said. Symptoms could include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or any combination.