SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Smithfield Foods pork plant plant in Sioux Falls is the now nation's largest coronavirus hotspot, with more than 600 cases linked to the facility pushing the South Dakota total past 1,000, state officials said Wednesday, April 15.

Testing has found another 88 Smithfield workers diagnosed with COVID-19, for a total of 518. Another 126 individuals connected to those workers have also tested positive, state officials said, which means 644 cases are linked to the now-shuttered pork processing plant.

The Smithfield outbreak, where testing continues, has now exceeded in size two other major hotspots with over 500 cases: The U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt docked in Guam and the Cook County Jail in Chicago.

Gov. Kristi Noem said a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has arrived in South Dakota and will tour the plant on Thursday.

Smithfield, a Virginia-based subsidiary of WH Group in China, closed the plant indefinitely on Wednesday. But Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue took to Twitter on Wednesday to say was working with the company and Noem to re-open the plant "ASAP to help minimize disruptions to our critical food supply chain, while making sure employees working there are safe."

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Meanwhile, the virus is spreading in the state's largest city. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state rose 180 to 1,168 on Wednesday, with 999 of the state's total just in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties, which contain Sioux Falls. In the last week, the rest of the state has only added 35 cases.

State officials have alerted Sioux Falls residents to newly diagnosed people who work at a wide range of local businesses, including Walmarts, a drug store, a gas station, an auto parts store, a grocery store and on a bus route.

Noem said updated state modeling predicts the state will need only half the number of hospital beds and ventilators at the virus' expected mid-June peak.

State officials, working in concert with three health systems in the state, still expect the number of COVID-19 cases to peak in mid-June. But the state will only need 2,500 beds and 650 ventilators, said Dr. Josh Clayton, the state epidemiologist. But state officials and he health systems are still planning for the earlier prediction, and plans to have the needed beds "ready and rarin' to go," Noem said.

"The data is showing us we’re bending our curve," she said.

The state's testing regime also got a shot in the arm with the delivery of quick-testing Abbot ID NOW machines, and supplies to run them, Noem said. The state will distribute one machine each to medical facilities in Redfield, Huron, Mobridge, Martin, Fall River County and Spearfish, and two to Sioux Falls.

Sixty-eight people have newly recovered from the virus in South Dakota, for a total of 329, state officials said Wednesday. The virus has hospitalized 51 South Dakotans and killed six.

Sioux Falls virus surge to hit earlier

While South Dakota is forecast to see an easier virus peak in June, Sioux Falls is bracing for the same challenge a month earlier.

The virus is expected to peak in Sioux Falls in mid-May, a month before the state as a whole, state and local officials said Wednesday.

The virus will fill between 1,200-1,300 hospital beds in the city, a total Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken described as "bumping up against the ceiling" of local capacity.

There are 999 cases in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties home to the state's largest city. The Sioux Falls area now has nearly as many cases as the five-county Twin Cities metro area in Minnesota, with 1,068 cases.

Noem on Tuesday rejected a TenHaken request to issue a shelter-in-place order for Minnehaha and Lincoln counties, and also rejected a request to set up an isolation center at a local conference center to house those infected with the virus.

The Sioux Falls City Council will give initial consideration Wednesday night to a shelter-in-place order for the city for all but essential trips and workers deemed critical. Unlike a previous stay at home proclamation made the by the governor, the two-week order could be enforced with a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

"It's a heavier-handed approach. I'll just call it what it is," said TenHaken. "It's a heavier-handed approach. It's a law."

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