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CDC investigates outbreak linked to South Dakota pork factory

Feds investigate virus outbreak at meat plant
CDC investigates coronavirus outbreak linked to South Dakota meat plant 01:52

The largest coronavirus hotspot in the country is the Smithfield pork factory in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Medical professionals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday visited the plant, where hundreds have been infected with coronavirus.

Workers there told CBS News they felt pressured to stay on the job — even after getting sick. In a single day, the number of infected employees jumped by 80, bringing the total to a staggering 598.

The plant is closed, but mechanic Tommy Daranikone was still asked to work as part of an essential team.

"I had a co-workers who quit because he was scared," Daranikone told CBS News.

Eighty languages are spoken at the plant of 4,000 employees, who are mostly immigrants.

Smithfield — South Dakota
The Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is seen Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Stephen Groves / AP

Some credit the company for the ability to send their children, like a 20-year-old, to college. Her father, who didn't want to be interviewed, is symptomatic.

"We're just running on the assumption that we're at least carrying the virus since he's been working there with it being active throughout the plant for the past week and a half," she said.

Employees had been sounding the alarm for six weeks, said Kooper Caraway of the AFL-CIO, which oversees their union.

"They asked for some safety precautions ... protective gear, temperature checks ... and it wasn't until several dozen workers had tested positive that management decided to implement these things. And by then, it was too late," Caraway explained.

Meat plants across the country have closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

CBS News obtained video from inside a JBS meat plant in Grand Marshall, Nebraska, showing employees shoulder-to-shoulder late last month.

And in Iowa, there were at least 86 positive cases tied to a Tyson meat plant there.

Smithfield's CEO said in a statement Wednesday that "we are doing everything in our power to help protect our team members from COVID-19" including providing protective gear.

But for the family of Augustin Rodriguez, a Smithfield employee who died from the virus this week, it's too late.

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