After more than 80 employees at the Smithfield meat packing plant in Sioux Falls tested positive for COVID-19, the plant is closing for three days.
A large portion of the plant will close April 11, and the facility will be completely closed April 12 and 13, according to a news release from Smithfield.
The shutdown is an inconvenience for pig farmers, said Glenn Muller executive director of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council.
"Every day we lose that plant has a tremendous impact on our ability to maintain hogs through the system," he said, adding that a shutdown any longer than three days would be a critical concern. "We definitely need to keep the plant open."
Muller said he hopes Smithfield employees can take the next three days to focus on their health because they are critical to the food system as well.
The plant has 3,700 employees in Sioux Falls. Company leaders said employees will be paid during the shutdown. Essential employees will be doing a deep cleaning of the plant, and they’ll set up physical barriers to help ensure social distancing.
Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said during a press conference Thursday that the big challenge will be communicating with employees, many of whom are from immigrant communities, about preventing the spread of the disease from home. He has been working with the Hispanic and Nepalese communities on COVID-19 response.
Smithfield president and CEO Ken Sullivan said the company is taking precautions to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees while serving a critical role in supplying food in a statement released Thursday morning. He noted the Sioux Falls plant supplies 18 million servings of food per day.
“As an industry and as a nation, it is imperative that we continue to operate our feed mills, farms, plants and distribution centers,” Sullivan said. “Together with our peers and supply chain partners, which include millions of American crop and livestock farmers, we feed America. Not operating is not an option. People need to eat.”
Other meat processors across the U.S. have closed after workers tested positive for COVID-19. Tyson Foods closed a pork plant at Columbus Junction in eastern Iowa Monday after more than two dozen workers tested positive for the virus, and a National Beef Packing facility in Tama, Iowa ceased operations as well.
TenHaken addressed fears that food coming out of the Smithfield plant being contaminated with the virus. The Food and Drug Administration has said that COVID-19 is not spread through food or food packaging.
"You can feel safe to eat Smithfield food, to eat Smithfield pork, to eat meat, period," he said.