Smithfield Foods, Inc., announced an indefinite closure on Sunday of its Sioux Falls, S.D., pork processing plant amid a COVID-19 outbreak.
On Saturday, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken sent a letter to Smithfield Foods recommending the closure of the Sioux Falls pork processing plant for 14 days based upon the increasing cases of COVID-19 connected to the plant’s workers.
The plant is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the U.S., providing nearly 130 million servings of food per week and employing 3,700 people. More than 550 independent family farmers supply the plant, according to a statement from Smithfield.
“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” Smithfield CEO and president Kenneth Sullivan said in a statement. “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals.”
In preparation for a full shutdown, some activity will occur at the plant on Tuesday, following the three-day closing announced on Friday for cleaning, to process product in inventory. According to Smithfield, the inventory to be processed consists of millions of servings of protein.
Smithfield said they will resume operations in Sioux Falls once further direction is received from local, state and federal officials. The company will continue to compensate its employees for the next two weeks and hopes to keep them from joining the ranks of the tens of millions of unemployed Americans across the country.
As of Sunday, 293 employees had tested positive for COVID-19, out of the 3,700-person workforce, KELOLAND reports. The Smithfield plant is now the fourth largest COVID-19 hotspot in the country, reports KELOLAND News.
Other meat processing plants have closed temporarily because of outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers, including a Tyson Foods facility in Columbus Junction, Iowa, where more than two dozen employees tested positive.
“We have continued to run our facilities for one reason: to sustain our nation’s food supply during this pandemic,” Sullivan said in a statement. “We believe it is our obligation to help feed the country, now more than ever. We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19.”
South Dakota is Far From Peak Infection
TenHaken said Sioux Falls currently has more COVID-19 cases per capita than much larger cities like Chicago or Seattle. On Wednesday, 80 cases were reported at the plant. That number jumped to 190 on Friday 238 on Saturday and 293 on Sunday.
South Dakota is far from its peak infection rate. Noem said she is preparing for at least 30% of South Dakota residents contracting COVID-19. Of 882,000 South Dakotans, she said 265,00 will be infected in the “best case scenario.” However, it could be as many 600,000 cases, KELOLAND reports.
Currently, there is a shelter-in-place order in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties for residents who are 65 and older and vulnerable populations.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 cases are now ubiquitous across our country. The virus is afflicting communities everywhere,” Sullivan said in a statement. “The agriculture and food sectors have not been immune.”
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