Sioux Falls Mayor TenHaken describes call with leaders of Smithfield as ‘heated’ as COVID-19 case numbers go up

Coronavirus

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken had an update on the spread of COVID-19 in the city Thursday morning.

The mayor said the case growth at Smithfield Foods has been very large, and the city has only learned about the “heat of this hot spot in last 48 hours.” He says that’s a good reminder of how quickly the virus can spread.

TenHaken said it is clear by the Smithfield situation, the rate of the spread of COVID-19 is intense. He said he was on a call with leaders of Smithfield Thursday morning, which he described as “heated.”

Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls has more than 80 employees who have tested positive. TenHaken said the spread from families related to employees is being focused on by the city health department.

TenHaken said Smithfield Foods has more than 100 employees over 65 years old. The mayor said the good news is if you remove the Smithfield outbreak, there has been minimal growth of COVID-19 cases in Minnehaha County.

He said there are 80-plus languages spoken within employees at Smithfield.

He said the Hispanic community in Sioux Falls will get hit hard. The state is leading the way in “contact tracing.” TenHaken says the best approach is to work “hand in glove” with Smithfield, Health Department and South Dakota Department of Health.

TenHaken said Smithfield is taking the situation very seriously.

“I don’t think people realize, as one of largest pork producing plants in the country, what shutting down Smithfield does to the food supply chain in this country,” Mayor TenHaken said. He says the three-day shutdown announced Thursday morning is an appropriate action.

TenHaken said if the spread doesn’t calm after the shutdown, he’d call for more drastic measures. He said both the state and city have a good line of communication with Smithfield and he feels good about the response moving forward.

He reminded the public they should feel safe eating Smithfield Food.

On learning from the Smithfield Foods outbreak, TenHaken said you can’t look back and see how to respond. He said look at how many businesses are having people working from home after previously stating there’s no way they could work from home.

Mayor TenHaken is calling on all businesses to take actions to not allow a situation for rapid spread to develop. He said all businesses need to implement smart business practices. He said people need to let their own employers know if they aren’t doing enough.

TenHaken said future spread could happen at businesses deemed essential by the federal government. He said there is only so much you can do to slow the spread of COVID-19.

He said April and May will continue to be tough months. He said there will be other hot spots and they will be ready for when they happen.

Sanford VP Medical Officer Dr. Mike Wilde said Sanford Health is continuing to prepare for a surge in the next few weeks. He said he knows people are anxious, but they are taking each day to prepare.

Dr. Wilde said Sanford continues to provide “exceptional care” to all of its patients and that focus remains as it prepares for COVID-19 patients. He said Sanford’s lab has passed 5,000 tests performed. He said that allows Sanford to respond.

Avera McKennan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mike Elliott said it has been “an interesting couple of weeks.” He said now is not a time to let up on social distancing, and the measures have made an impact and continue to make impacts.

Dr. Elliott said Avera is planning “day and night” for the worst possible surge. He said Avera is dedicated to taking care of people in the region.

Dr. Elliott said Avera will release details about some surge capacity measures. One of Avera’s buildings, the Prairie Care Center, is being transitioned into a 150-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Elliott said it has been nice to see people coming together to work to protect people in the community.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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