SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Sunday Smithfield Foods said in a press release that they will be closing “until further notice.” This comes after Governor Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken recommended the plant suspend operations for at least 14 days. According to the South Dakota Department of Health, 293 people who work there are among the 527 positive cases of COVID-19 in Minnehaha County.
College student Sarah Telahun’s mother is a Smithfield employee.
“We came back from our colleges, and we’re sitting here doing our online course work and we’re realizing that our parents are coming home very tired, which isn’t unusual, but now they’re coming home kind of hopeless about what’s happening around them and about what their future kind of holds at Smithfield,” Telehun said.
A news release from Smithfield Foods says the plant will keep paying employees for the next two weeks. Taneeza Islam is a lawyer and a member of the South Dakota Dream Coalition, an immigrant advocacy group. She says the worry surrounding compensation for employees comes from their possible inability to receive federal help.
“They cannot qualify for unemployment until they are furloughed or laid off. And the workers at Smithfield, in particular, probably will not be eligible for the CARE’s pandemic unemployment assistance, which has not been implemented in South Dakota yet, because they’re an employer of over 500,” Islam said.
The Dream Coalition is working to figure out how they can provide cash assistance to Smithfield employees affected by COVID-19. As far as the amount of positive cases at Smithfield, the Dream Coalition wishes more had been done sooner.
“I really believe that this could’ve been avoided if measures would’ve been taken, even maybe the closure of Smithfield today would’ve been avoided if measures would’ve been taken a long time ago because we knew this was coming,” said Nancy Reynoza, a member of the Dream Coalition.
They are also concerned about the safety measures that were eventually taken.
“We have now seen reports of what kind of protective gear they just started giving out a week ago, you know, a hairnet for a mask for example. We have all received reports that PPE is not a thing,” Islam said.
The Dream Coalition also believes that the problem does not stem from any language barriers at the plant.
“Because there are a lot of advocates making sure that our community understands all of the information and their language in different languages, so we are working hard in making sure we portray the information,” Reynoza said.
The Dream Coalition asks that if anyone is being discriminated against because of COVID-19 at Smithfield, to reach out to them.