South Dakota COVID cases top 1,100; meat plant worker dies

Smithfield Pork

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in South Dakota has surpassed 1,100, and more than half of those cases have some connection to the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls.

Health officials said Wednesday that 180 more people tested positive for COVID-19 in the last day, bringing the statewide total to 1,168 cases. A total of 934 cases were in Minnehaha County, the location of the Smithfield Foods plant.

The plant is one of the largest known clusters of COVID-19 cases in the country. As of Wednesday, 644 people with connections to the plant were infected. That number includes 518 employees, including one who died on Tuesday morning.

Agustin Rodriguez’s pastor confirmed his death to The Associated Press. It appeared Rodriguez’s death was not included in state figures released Wednesday: The state has said the number of deaths has held steady at six since April 7.

Despite the growing number of cases, Gov. Kristi Noem said Wednesday that the state’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus are working. Sioux Falls is expected to see its number of cases peak in mid-May, while the rest of the state is expected to see a peak in mid-June.

“We are going to continue to recommend all of our mitigation efforts,” she said. “What you are doing at home by staying at home and making sure you are practicing social distancing is making a difference.”

Noem said she has been talking with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and officials from the Smithfield Foods plant to work on a plan for getting it up and running again. Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are in Sioux Falls and plan to walk through the plant Thursday. She said officials recognize the plant’s importance in the nation’s food supply, and getting it up and running is a “national security issue.”

Meanwhile, absent a statewide stay-at-home order, the mayor of Sioux Falls is pursuing a city-wide shelter-in-place ordinance to try to curb the outbreak in his city.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

A total of 329 people have recovered from the coronavirus statewide.