SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A meat-packing plant in Sioux Falls is the epicenter of the skyrocketing number of coronavirus cases in the state's most populous area, state officials said Wednesday, April 8.
Eighty workers in the Smithfield plant just north of downtown Sioux Falls have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of the state Department of Health.
The Smithfield cases are more than a third of the 228 known cases in Minnehaha County, home to Sioux Falls. Known coronavirus cases in the state surged by 73 to 393 on Wednesday, and the bulk of those, 63, were in Minnehaha County.
But both state and local officials said they were working with the plant's owner to test workers and keep the virus from spreading further. The plant isn't open to the public.
"We have specifically identified one cluster and are working with the business as well as the Sioux Falls Health Department to make sure we're identifying people that have symptoms of COVID-19, getting those folks tested and following up," said Dr. Joshua Clayton, state epidemiologist, in a Wednesday call with media on the day's test results.
Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken on Wednesday said they were "working around the clock to make sure their employees have the right mitigation tactics and the right sanitary hygiene practices in place to curb the spread there."
TenHaken said state and city health officials are on daily calls with the local Smithfield manager about the situation there and the Smithfield CEO had visited Sioux Falls "to make sure the plant is taking the measures seriously, as well."
The Smithfield pork processing plant, formerly owned by John Morrell, is one of the city's biggest employers with about 3,600 workers and has been a pillar of the local economy since it opened in 1909.
Sioux Falls is currently covered under two layers of restrictions from both city and state leaders. TenHaken has issued a "safer at home" order calling for people to stay home, limit travel to only essential trips and a near universal wearing of face masks in public, atop standing restrictions on gatherings and in-person business.
Gov. Kristi Noem has issued a stay-at-home order Minnehaha County and adjacent Lincoln County, which has 31 confirmed coronavirus cases. Her order covers at-risk populations including those older than 65 and those with chronic health conditions and suppressed immune systems. She has also recently toughened the language of statewide guidelines about in-person business, social distancing and personal hygiene.
The number of diagnosed individuals who have been hospitalized with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, ticked up two to 26. The number of those who have recovered from their illness rose sharply by 48, to 146.
State, private and hospital lab have processed 6,748 tests from residents in the state, according to a Forum News Service count.
The state's death toll from the coronavirus remains unchanged at 6.
Noem said she had spoken Wednesday morning with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, about her relatively hands-off approach to curbing the spread of the virus.
The governor has resisted issuing a statewide stay-at-home order, instead leaving harsher restrictions to local governments, a decision she said Fauci supported. He agreed the state was "in a very good spot," she said.
"It was wonderful to hear him recognize and confirm that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work in every single state," she said. "He appreciates our efforts in South Dakota to protect people and be aggressive in going forward and making sure we’re slowing down the spread and we’re bending the curve for our people."
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