South Dakota governor: 190 virus cases tied to pork plant
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Friday reported that 190 cases of COVID-19 have been tied to an outbreak at a Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls.
The Republican governor said the state Health Department has stepped up mitigation efforts at the plant and declared a public health emergency in Minnehaha County, where the plant is located. The outbreak tied to the plant is the largest known hotspot in the state, accounting for 1 in 3 confirmed cases.
State epidemiologist Josh Clayton said the 190 cases were primarily plant employees.
Smithfield Foods announced Thursday it would be closing the plant for three days over the weekend to clean and install barriers. There has been no evidence that the coronavirus is being transmitted through food or its packaging, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Noem called Smithfield’s actions so far “appropriate,” although some workers and their families have said the company hasn’t done enough.
Noem said six people from the Smithfield outbreak have required hospitalization or health care so far.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The state reported Friday that 536 people have tested positive for the virus statewide, an increase of 89 people from the day before. That’s the largest day-to-day jump in confirmed cases in South Dakota so far. Six people have died.
The governor intensified her action in Minnehaha County with the declaration of a public health emergency that would allow health officials to compel people affected by COVID-19 to quarantine.
She defended Smithfield’s efforts to clean the Sioux Falls plant, distance workers in lunchrooms, and screen their temperature at the facility entrance, saying that media reports detailing worker’s complaints had not told the full story.
Noem said she had not spoken directly with the union representing workers at the plant, but had spoken with Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan multiple times this week.
“I’m having really honest, frank conversations with Smithfield,” she said.
She said that overall, she felt the state is in a good place with its COVID-19 numbers, noting that they are lower than what she projected a month ago.