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South Dakota meatpacking plant becomes the number one virus hotspot in America


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A South Dakota pork processing plant, which has shut down indefinitely, is now the number one coronavirus hotspot in the country, according to data compiled by the New York Times and KELOLAND News.

On Wednesday, South Dakota Department of Health officials confirmed 80 new cases among Smithfield employees in addition to a total of 126 cases connected to those Smithfield Foods employees. That brings the total to 644 cases connected to the plant.

A South Dakota non-profit also announced the death of a Smithfield worker related to COVID-19. That case wasn’t confirmed by the state on Wednesday.

The plant surpassed the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt in the number of confirmed cases. The New York Times has been looking at cases connected to specific clusters.

S.D. Department of Health officials has been using contact tracing to help identify workers connected to the Smithfield plant.

On Tuesday, Smithfield announced it was creating a $100 million Responsibility Bonus to all its hourly production and distribution center team members. 

Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken sent a letter to the company over the weekend asking management to close the plant for 14 days. Smithfield responded by closing it indefinitely on Sunday.

The Sioux Falls plant is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the country, representing 4% to 5% of U.S. pork production. According to the company, it supplies nearly 130 million servings of food per week, or about 18 million servings per day, and employs 3,700 people. Smithfield’s CEO Ken Sullivan said he is concerned about the nation’s food supply.

“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” Sullivan said in a statement.

Earlier this week, TenHaken called on Noem to issue a stay-at-home order and create an isolation center. She rejected both of those requests on Wednesday. The city is expected to issue its own stay-at-home order.

On Wednesday, the state surpassed 1,000 confirmed cases, most of which are in Minnehaha County.

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