Gov. Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken want Smithfield Foods to close its Sioux Falls meatpacking plant for two weeks. The plant is in Minnehaha County, which reports 438 COVID-19 cases. Of those, 238 cases are identified as Smithfield employees.
Gov. Noem says the request also asks Smithfield to pay its employees while the plant is closed.
“As well as paid sick time for those infected and symptomatic, to encourage them to stay home in an effort to further prevent spreading of the virus to their family, community members, and the city of Sioux Falls,” Noem said.
The governor wouldn’t outline any potential measures against Smithfield if the company doesn’t comply.
“We’ll see how they respond to the letter before we speculate what needs to happens,” she said.
The number of cases connected to the plant isn’t the only thing driving the request. Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken doesn’t like the way COVID-19 infection rates are on the rise in the city of nearly 182,000 people.
“Our per capita data—we have 182.25 cases per hundred-thousand residents. That is more than Seattle. That’s more than Chicago. That’s concerning,” TenHaken said.
TenHaken says Smithfield executives from the company’s Virginia headquarters are in Sioux Falls to oversee mitigation efforts at the plant. Parts of the complex are closed this weekend to install barriers between workers and sanitize the facility. The company announced a three-day shutdown through Monday.
Earlier this week, TenHaken says Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan said the federal government was urging the company to keep the plant open to protect the food supply. Saturday, TenHaken called South Dakota’s U.S. Sen. John Thune to clarify.
“The USDA cannot mandate that anyone stays open, a plant like this. So that was an important clarification for me,” TenHaken said.
The mayor would not say what the city could do if Smithfield doesn’t comply with the request to close. But TenHaken says he has also submitted a formal request to Gov. Noem asking that she issue a shelter-in-place order for Minnehaha County.
South Dakota remains one of a handful of states without such a statewide order. Gov. Noem maintains a statewide measure does not meet the needs of the largely rural state.