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Meat processing plant ordered to shut down after Covid-19 outbreak; company sues New Mexico

Officials in the state ordered the Stampede Meat plant to close after six employees tested positive in four days.
Stampede Meat in Sunland Park, N.M.
Stampede Meat in Sunland Park, N.M.Google Maps

An Illinois-based meat manufacturer is suing the state of New Mexico after health officials there ordered a processing plant to close for two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Stampede Meat said it will lose millions of pounds of meat at a plant in Sunland Park, just across the state line from El Paso, Texas, and it asked a judge to throw out the order.

In court documents filed Friday, the company outlined several measures it had taken to halt the virus's spread, citing President Donald Trump's executive order April 28 invoking the Defense Production Act.

The order required meat processing plants to remain open during the pandemic.

In a letter to the company on Nov. 3, a New Mexico health official cited six positive coronavirus tests from Oct. 23 to Oct. 27 and ordered the plant to be closed for two weeks.

The New Mexico Heath Department referred questions about the suit to a spokeswoman for the state's Environment Department. The spokeswoman, Maddy Hayden, declined to discuss the suit, but she said courts have repeatedly upheld the state's authority to protect the public's health and safety.

Stampede Meat employs more than 500 workers at its Sunland Park plant. Hayden said more than 100 workers there have tested positive since the pandemic began.

Stampede did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

The United States is having its highest single-day tallies of coronavirus infections. More than 120,000 people tested positive for the virus Thursday, according to an NBC News tally.

The Midwest and the Southwest have been hit hard. In New Mexico, the number of cases steadily rose over the last two weeks, jumping from just over 700 on Oct. 8 to 1,210 on Sunday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Nearby El Paso has also had a surge in infections, with the number of cases nearly doubling in the last month, according to Johns Hopkins. So many people are dying in the county that six mobile morgues have been set up, with four more on the way, officials said Monday.