More than 1,900 people in South Dakota have tested positive for COVID-19, but more than half of the patients have now recovered.
Of that total, health officials say about 800 Smithfield Foods employees and more than 200 people who had close contact with them have tested positive.
The pork processing plant closed indefinitely last week after the Sioux Falls Mayor and South Dakota governor asked for a 14-day closure.
Kooper Caraway communicates with Smithfield employees and their union representative.
He’s the president of the Sioux Falls AFL-CIO. He says there are some mixed feelings among workers.
“They have a bit of relief because they have been able to have some time off. They don’t have that anxiety where they were going to work and then possibly coming home and even if they don’t have symptoms maybe spreading the virus to loved ones,” Sioux Falls AFL-CIO President Kooper Caraway said.
But he says there are also feelings of confusion and frustration.
“Not only Smithfield workers, but workers all over Sioux Falls are just getting mixed signals all over the place. You’ll hear one thing from your employer, you’ll hear another thing from your union, you’ll hear another thing from the city government, and a whole other thing from the state government, and then a whole other thing from the federal government. Working-class folks are pretty frustrated and confused,” Caraway said.
Caraway says Smithfield workers are eager to return to work.
“The workers love their job. They love working there. They love job security. They love their regular pay and benefit increases, and they love their fellow co-workers. They just don’t want to be in a position where they put themselves or their community or their family at risk,” Caraway said.