SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Gov. Kristi Noem has declared a public health emergency in Minnehaha County. Health officials have connected nearly 200 case of COVID-19 to the Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls.
More than 500 South Dakotans have tested positive for COVID-19, a majority of them live in the Sioux Falls area – where there are now 390 cases.
State Health officials say 190 cases are linked to Smithfield foods.
Josh Clayton, the state epidemiologist says the Department of Health has been in constant contact with Smithfield to discuss what measures need to be taken at the plant.
“The focus here is that we do take seriously the concerns that have been raised, we are working very closely with Smithfield to make sure they have a work environment that is able to decrease any sort of potential risk of spread of COVID-19,” state epidemiologist Josh Clayton said.
Clayton says Smithfield will be implementing temperature screenings on site and making sure their workers have personal protective equipment.
“They’re looking at enhancing the barriers for individuals that are working on the line that might be in a little closer proximity to one another,” Clayton says.
Clayton says the state is also working with all of the people who Smithfield employees might have had contact with.
“That is, just as a generality, about 10 individuals per case, so it does take us time to identify those individuals to provide that notification,” Clayton said.
The state is working with interpreters to get that information out to those who need it.
KELOLAND News spoke with Kooper Caraway, the president of the Sioux Falls AFL-CIO, who said he wishes the plant had instituted the safety procedures sooner.
“The Smithfield Worker’s Union, the UFCW and their president, BJ Motley, has been pushing for a month to institute work place safety procedures. To institute temperature checks, to institute staggered scheduling and staggered shift changes and lunch schedules and all of these things. The management didn’t take the workers’ demands seriously and it wasn’t until this past week that they started implementing these things after the plant had already become a hot spot,” Caraway said.