Three New Mexico businesses are temporarily closing their doors under new requirements after having four or more employees test positive for COVID-19 within the past two weeks, according to state records.
Stampede Meat in Sunland Park, Chaparral Materials in Santa Fe and Deming Manufactured Homes in Deming were all sent notices dated Tuesday to temporarily close until Nov. 17, according to information posted as part of the New Mexico Environment Department’s rapid response watchlist.
The three companies are the first businesses ordered to close for two weeks since new rapid response procedures under recent changes to the public health order went into effect last month.
Under the order, restaurants, retail stores, close-contact businesses and other businesses that could pose a “significant public health risk” must close for two weeks if four employees test positive for coronavirus within a 14-day period.
Brett Jenkins, general manager of Deming Manufactured Homes, said he was surprised to receive the notice. He said the company, which employs about 150 people, has had several employees test positive this year and each time he has worked with the state government to respond appropriately.
“Every time I’ve made a report, the Environment Department has been very complimentary about the lengths we go through to keep everybody safe here,” Jenkins said.
He said since the spring, the facility has employed coronavirus safeguards like mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, temperature checks and sending home employees with any symptoms.
“I’ve never been told that what we’re doing is bad,” Jenkins said. “To the contrary, I’ve been told that we’re doing a good job on those phone conversations (with state officials).”
As a home manufacturing facility, Jenkins said he doesn’t see how his business could fall under the specified categories listed in the public health order. He said he was unable to get an answer as to why he had to close.
Maddy Hayden, spokeswoman for the New Mexico Environment Department, said she did not know the specifics behind the closure of the Deming facility, but she said the Department of Health is empowered to close a business if the department determines the business to pose a significant risk.
“An escalating series of positive employees in the place of business is cause for concern, at the very least, and a demonstrated continued pattern will compel the department to take action to protect employees, customers and the community in which the business is located,” Hayden said in an email.
Jenkins said he is currently waiting to hear back from the Department of Health and he was told that the department is looking into his situation.
The rapid response watchlist lists Deming Manufactured Homes and Chaparral Materials as having four employees test positive in the past two weeks. Stampede Meat had six, state records showed.
Positive coronavirus cases have plagued the meatpacking plant since the early summer when 57 workers tested positive for the virus in May, Hayden said.
Representatives of Chaparral Materials and Stampede Meat could not be reached for comment.
Notices sent to all three businesses encourage the employers to have all employees tested for coronavirus while closed.
Hayden said she didn’t know the specifics of how the virus transmitted in the other facilities. But, she said, multiple positive cases at a business could be attributed to the proximity of employees to each other and living conditions.
“Sometimes it has to do with people working in close proximity with each other in these facilities and I think that another trend that we sometimes see is employees living together or spending time together or carpooling outside of the business hours,” she said.