CDC Officials Hustle To Put Virus-Ravaged Smithfield Foods Back Online After Worker Dies Of COVID-19

CHRIS WHITE TECH REPORTER

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working to put a meat processing plant ravaged by coronavirus back online after a worker died of the virus.

CDC staff canvassed the Sioux Falls Smithfield Foods plant Thursday weeks after the first COVID-19 case was discovered in March. One infected worker died Tuesday while nearly 600 employees have tested positive for the virus, which has killed 100,000 people worldwide.

“Next steps of the plan are contingent on feedback from the CDC’s efforts today,” Noem’s spokesman Ian Fury told the Argus Leader on Thursday. “We’re working closely with the plant to make sure it’s an environment that’s safe for the employees and also.”

“[W]e’re doing it in a time frame to help our ag producers who are looking to market their hogs,” Noem’s office added. (RELATED: ‘Perilously Close To The Edge’: World’s Largest Pork Processor Closes A US Plant, Warns Of ‘Severe’ Meat Shortages)

The China-owned pork processing plant shuttered Sunday after employees were infected with coronavirus, noting that the nation’s grocers are under severe stress. The announcement came after officials across the country locked down cities amid an ebbing coronavirus pandemic.

Smithfield Foods noted that it intends to open as soon as officials give it the good-to-go.

“We recognize the critical and essential nature of our work at this facility for the local community, for farmers and for the entire food system,” the plant noted in a statement. “Smithfield will resume operations in Sioux Falls once further direction is received.”

Meanwhile, critics have heaped scorn on Noem for resisting calls for her to effectively close down South Dakota. The Washington Post, for instance, ran a headline Monday suggesting that the governor’s hesitation perhaps resulted in the plant being overrun with the virus.

Noem has gone a different route. She issued executive orders for counties with high elderly and at-risk populations to stay at home, and instructed all citizens to follow guidelines on hygiene and social distancing. Noem’s work putting the plant back in working order is cold comfort for some.

The wife of one worker who died from the virus said the plant’s managers worked her husband to death.

“I lost him because of that horrible place,” Angelita Rodriguez told the Argus Leader on Thursday through a translator. She was referring to 64-year-old Augustín Rodriguez, who was hospitalized April 4, placed on ventilators two weeks later, and died Tuesday.

Angelita added: “Those horrible people and their supervisors, they’re sitting in their homes, and they’re happy with their families.”

Smithfield Foods Chief Executive Ken Sullivan said the plant’s closure could hurt the country’s food supply.

“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running,” Sullivan said in a statement Sunday. “These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”


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