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Smithfield Prepares to Reopen Sioux Falls Plant Under Federal Oversight

Some employees of the Smithfield meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls are back at work. A COVID-19 outbreak shut the plant down in mid-April. More than a thousand cases are connected to the plant. At one point it had the largest cluster of cases in the nation.

Governor Kristi Noem says President Trump’s executive order to keep meatpacking plants open puts federal departments in charge of overseeing Smithfield’s operations.

“To be honest I’m disappointed we never received Smithfield managements plan for how they’re going to implement CDC’s recommendation for a safe reopening," Noem says, "but despite that we’re going to do all that we can to protect the health of the Smithfield workforce.”

Noem says the state has ordered 4,000 face shields and 20,000 face masks for Smithfield workers through FEMA. She expects that shipment this week.

The South Dakota National Guard has set up a drive-through testing site for plant workers and their household members in the Washington High School parking lot.

“One of the most effective things we can do is test Smithfield employees to make sure they’re COVID negative before they’re going back into work," the governor explains. "We also want to make sure their family members have the opportunity to be tested, and so I have authorized the Department of Health to coordinate a mass testing event for Smithfield employees and their dependents.”

Smithfield is not requiring employees to test before coming to work.

Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon says future mass testing sites are possible for specific situations.

“I think we will continue to see increased aggressive testing wherever we see multiple cases, especially associated with some sort of commonality,” she explains.

As the Sioux Falls plant prepares to reopen fully, state officials are monitoring the DemKota beef plant in Aberdeen. So far, 41 employees have tested positive for COVID-19.