SANTA TERESA, New Mexico -- A confirmed case of the coronavirus involving an employee of a meatpacking plant near the Santa Teresa/Sunland Park border has prompted New Mexico health officials to speed testing for the entire workforce to determine if an outbreak has happened, health leaders said Monday night.
Officials said tests were being collected at the Stampede Meat Inc. plant, located at 5700 McNutt Road, for each shift and then being flown by the Civil Air Patrol to a state health department lab in Albuquerque for immediate processing.
A flight carrying the initial batch of tests departed Monday evening from Las Cruces International Airport and arrived in Albuquerque, said Lt. Col. Dave Finley of CAP. He indicated a second flight would take place Tuesday morning with the remaining tests.
"The rapid testing is being done to provide information needed to keep the plant operating safely for employees as well as the public," said New Mexico Dept. of Health spokesman Dave Daniels.
Meatpacking plants nationwide have been especially hard hit by the virus.
Meat processor Tyson, who used to operate in the southern New Mexico facility where Stampede is now located, has shuttered a number of plants across the country in recent weeks as workers fall ill with Covid-19. It’s also warned that more closures are coming, which could seriously impact the nation's food supply.
A recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said more than 4,900 workers at meat and poultry processing facilities have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 20 who have died.
In the Texas panhandle, rampant virus outbreaks at beef plants that have infected over a thousand workers and led to a handful of deaths has prompted the CDC to send in a team of health specialists to assess the situation.
In an executive order signed last week, President Trump gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture the power to invoke the Defense Production Act to force meatpacking companies to keep their plants open. The order, however, has not led to a widespread reopening of shuttered meat production plants.
(The AP and CNN contributed background to this report.)