PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Gov. Kristi Noem says she and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken are working together to address the issue of COVID-19 at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls.
The governor is speaking for the first time since new case numbers linked to Smithfield Foods were released earlier Saturday afternoon.
The latest COVID-19 test result numbers show the state with 626 total positive cases, up 90 from Friday (536). 86 of the 90 new cases in the state are reported to be Minnehaha County residents. There are now 438 total COVID-19 cases reported in Minnehaha. 238 of the 438 are people who work at Smithfield Foods; there are 48 new cases linked to the meatpacking plant.
TenHaken says Sioux Falls currently has more COVID-19 cases per capita than much larger cities such as Seattle or Chicago.
The governor and Mayor TenHaken are now asking Smithfield Foods to close for 14 days and provide pay and benefits to those out of work.
Below is the letter from Gov. Noem and Mayor Paul TenHaken to Smithfield Foods:
Noem says she and Mayor TenHaken are looking forward to the response from Smithfield Foods following Saturday’s recommendation.
As part of her comments on Saturday, Noem also reminded South Dakotans that there is a long road ahead in the fight against COVID-19. She referred back to graphs she presented earlier this month.
Noem says that citizens of South Dakota have done a great job and have helped lower the amount of hospitalizations needed.
In regards to the state’s projections, she says she has to be prepared for at least 30% of S.D. residents getting COVID-19. Noem says she hopes for better numbers than that, but they need to plan for the projections.
Gov. Noem says there will be days ahead when thousands of South Dakotans will be infected. Of 882,000 South Dakotans, she says 265,00 will be infected in the “best case scenario.” However, it could be as many 600,000 cases. The governor says South Dakota is “nowhere near our peak infection rate.”
Noem is urging South Dakota residents to continue social distancing and washing hands.
The state has tripled the amount of people who are helping track where positive patients have been in the last three days, according to Secretary of the Department of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon.
The governor said her office will have an announcement on therapeutics in Monday’s news conference.
Malsam-Rysdon said the more tests that you run, the more cases you will find. She says the state has been running extra tests for the cases at Smithfield Foods.
In regards to Smithfield’s response, the governor says if Smithfield Foods says no, officials will address it at that time. There is no deadline for Smithfield to respond.
Gov. Noem made it clear that the state will not be giving any financial help to Smithfield Foods. She says that state revenues have dried up during this pandemic.
“For COVID-19, there is no risk of spread to the food in these facilities that deal with food,” Dr. Joshua Clayton, state epidemiologist said.
Review Gov. Kristi Noem’s briefing below:
Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken addressed what is happening at the Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant at 4 p.m. Saturday.
He says the letter sent to Smithfield Foods has “very strong recommendations.”
As of Saturday, Sioux Falls has 182.25 cases per 100,000 residents, which is more than Seattle and Chicago, according to Mayor Paul TenHaken. The city is doubling the amount of cases every four days over the last 16 days.
“What happens in Smithfield Foods is under their control, but what happens outside the plant is not,” Mayor TenHaken said. He says there is concern about spread in Sioux Falls.
Avera CEO Dave Flicek says tests are “a precious commodity” and health systems need to make sure they’re testing the right people, such as those with underlying health conditions.
Avera says the number of COVID-19 patients they have hospitalized is below 10, and the number has been stable this last week.
Sanford Health President Paul Hanson said Sanford also has under 10 patients with the virus.
Mayor TenHaken says the request is for a full closure of the Smithfield plant. He said he was frustrated that Smithfield Foods announcing a three-day closure when he says the plant isn’t fully closed on Saturday. He says he appreciates what Smithfield Foods has done so far, however, he thinks they need to take a little bigger step.
“If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to shut it down, I would be a millionaire. But it’s not that easy,” TenHaken said.
“In the last 48 hours, I’ve gotten hundreds of emails from Smithfield employees and families concerned with what is happening at the plant,” TenHaken said.
The City of Sioux Falls is working with the Multicultural Center to translate materials into several languages. TenHaken says Hispanic and Nepalese communities are hardest hit with infections.
Avera says it has full-time interpreters in the emergency room now, but a testing site was overrun by people who didn’t understand they needed to call ahead first.
TenHaken says there is a silver lining that there are few deaths and hospitalizations, but he said that the city is being proactive now, so that the death numbers and hospitalizations don’t rise in the next few weeks.
The mayor says they’re taking steps like having a Saturday afternoon press conference to be proactive.
“We’re trying to protect these guys’ [the hospitals] capacity, so that we can treat everyone and everyone gets the care they need. And at that doubling rate we’ve had, it makes us nervous. That’s why these steps are being taken,” Mayor TenHaken said.
There is currently a shelter-in-place order in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties for residents who are 65 and older and vulnerable populations.
TenHaken said he made a formal request to the governor’s office Saturday morning asking for county-wide shelter-in-place in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties.
“They are looking at that and determining if it’s something they feel is right, right now,” TenHaken said. “It’s something that I, personally, would like to see, and I feel we are moving in that direction.”
The mayor said when one public health issue is solved, three more are created.
“This affects a lot of lives and a lot of families. And people need to know when they say ‘shut it down, shut these places down,’ there are so many issues we have to consider and so many families we have to be thinking of,” TenHaken said. “It’s so complicated.”
Review Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken’s briefing below:
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