Department of Health Officials Update COVID-19 Cases Tied to Meat Plants

May 20, 2020

Credit SDPB

State health officials say the majority of COVID-19 cases connected to the Smithfield meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls have recovered. Meanwhile, other meatpacking plants in the state are seeing cases among employees.

Smithfield was the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases in the nation in mid-April. In total, 841 employees and 245 of their close contacts tested positive. Two employees died.

As of Wednesday, state epidemiologist Josh Clayton says all of the close contacts have recovered. Ten Smithfield employees still have active cases of the coronavirus. 

But Smithfield isn’t the only South Dakota meat plant seeing COVID-19 cases. In Aberdeen, 128 employees at the DemKota Ranch Beef plant have tested positive, and 44 of those cases are still active.

State officials say “less than ten” cases are also connected to the Dakota Provisions meat plant in Huron.

State epidemiologist Josh Clayton says the Department of Health usually won’t link coronavirus cases to an employer unless there’s an ongoing cluster.

He says a few COVID-19 cases connected to the same business doesn’t mean all employees are at risk.

“Just realize that as we have additional questions about employers come up, we try and not talk about cases associated with an employer because there’s not a determination that that’s where the exposure occurred," he explains during a daily media briefing. 

The only other time the Department of Health links a COVID-19 case to an employer is if there is risk to the public. If an employee tests positive and may have had contact with customers while contagious, the department issues a public notice only if it’s impossible to identify each individual who may have been exposed to the virus.