The Nation’s Biggest COVID-19 Hot Spot Resumes Operations
One of the largest employers in Sioux Falls is ramping up operations after being closed for nearly a month.
Smithfield Foods near Falls Park was closed on April 12 due to an outbreak of COVID-19. The plant became the number one coronavirus 'hotspot' in the nation with over 800 workers being diagnosed with the disease and two deaths, Dakota News Now reports.
According to a company press release, Smithfield Foods is beginning a "phased" approach to reopening after receiving confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the company is in compliance with both CDC and OSHA guidelines.
A few employees returned to work on Monday to begin the process of reopening. According to the company, the harvest floor will reopen on May 11 and the facility will be fully operational by the end of May. The plant is one of the nation's largest meat processing facilities and employs over 3700 workers.
Officials with the CDC toured the plant to inspect how Smithfield was implementing COVID-19 safety measures. Recommendations such as including better communication with non-English speakers and improved social distancing efforts were issued.
Smithfield says employee health and safety is "at the core" of its reopening plan. The company is providing workers with PPE, including masks and shields, and have created barriers to improve social distancing.
The company reports that over 2,000 employees have been tested for COVID-19 with more testing will be available in the future.
After a plant tour, BJ Motley, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 304A said, "Smithfield is doing everything they can for the employees and their safety. We stand with Smithfield to get this plant back open."
The reopening is spurred by a recent executive order issued by President Donald Trump labeling meat processing plants as "vital infrastructure."