Governor Opposed Stay-at-Home Order. Now, a Virus Hot Spot

644 COVID-19 cases tied to Smithfield Foods meat plant in Sioux Falls, SD
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2020 10:10 AM CDT
Largest Coronavirus Hot Spot in US: a Meat Plant
The Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, SD, is seen on April 8.   (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)

The shuttered Smithfield Foods pork plant in Sioux Falls, SD, is now the largest single source of coronavirus cases in the country. Eighty more employees were confirmed to have COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the employee total to 518. State health officials say another 126 people who had contact with an employee have tested positive, for a combined 644 cases linked to the hot spot, per the Argus Leader. Previously, the largest cluster of cases came from the USS Theodore Roosevelt in Guam, where 615 cases have now been recorded, per the New York Times. The plant with 3,700 employees was closed Sunday until further notice, with Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan warning that the US was "perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply."

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem says she's working with federal officials to get the plant back up and running. A team from the CDC is to offer guidance during a tour on Thursday. The state is also "aggressively testing" employees and those they've been in contact with, Noem says. The governor has come under fire for not instituting a statewide stay-at-home order. But she argues residents are voluntarily abiding by social distancing guidelines and already "bending the curve," per NBC News. "Our health care system can handle what's coming at us," she said Wednesday, noting the expected peak in cases in Sioux Falls has been pushed back to mid-May. South Dakota had 1,168 COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, an increase of 180 from the day before, with six deaths. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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