One of the nation’s largest producers of pork is closing its doors indefinitely after 293 of its employees have tested positive for the Wuhan Coronavirus. Smithfield Foods CEO is warning that the closing of a growing list of protein plants over the spread of COVID-19 is pushing our country “perilously close” to a meat shortage.
South Dakota is one of the states that has not enforced a mandatory lockdown of its citizens. South Dakota is also working on the front lines to help find a cure for COVID-19. South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem announced today a rural healthcare provider in their state will launch a clinical trial of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to see if it can cure or treat COVID-19, announced Monday. The controlled study, which begins immediately, will include 2,000 healthy patients exposed to COVID-19, including frontline health care workers and first responders, a statement from Sanford Health said.
What about the 293 workers at Smithfield foods who’ve already been infected with the Wuhan coronavirus?
The announcement came a day after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken wrote to Smithfield and urged the company to suspend operations for 14 days so that its workers could self-isolate and the plant could be disinfected.
The plant, which employs about 3,700 people in the state’s largest city, has become a hot spot for infections. Health officials said Sunday that 293 of the 730 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in South Dakota work at the plant.
“As a critical infrastructure employer for the nation’s food supply chain and a major employer in Sioux Falls, it is crucial that Smithfield have a healthy workforce to ensure the continuity of operations to feed the nation. At the same time, employees need a healthy work environment,” Noem and TenHaken wrote to the plant’s operators.
Smithfield announced a three-day closure last week so it could sanitize the plant and install physical barriers to enhance social distancing. But on Sunday, it announced the plant’s indefinite closure.
“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” Smithfield president and CEO Kenneth Sullivan said in a statement. “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”
“We believe it is our obligation to help feed the country, now more than ever. We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19,” he said.
Maggie Seidel, Noem’s senior advisor and policy director, said in an emailed statement Sunday that science and data support a 14-day closure to slow the spread of the virus in the community.
“Obviously, the situation is dynamic and changing by the day. The industry (like the country) needs to fight its way through this situation – and it will – and make adjustments as it changes. As a critical infrastructure industry in our nation’s food supply, the Governor is committed to working with them to get through this,” Seidel wrote.
There has been no evidence that the coronavirus is being transmitted through food or its packaging, according to the Department of Agriculture.