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South Dakota meatpacking plant becomes nation's top coronavirus hotspot as governor shuns stay-at-home order

Coronavirus puts food supply workers at risk

The number of South Dakota residents who have tested positive for coronavirus has surpassed 1,100, and more than half of those cases have some connection to the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls. This comes as Governor Kristi Noem reiterated Tuesday that she won't be ordering people to stay home amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to CBS affiliate KELO-TV.

Health officials said Wednesday that 180 more people tested positive for COVID-19 in the last day, bringing the statewide total to 1,168 confirmed cases. Of those, 934 cases were in Minnehaha County, the location of the Smithfield Foods plant, making the site one of the largest known clusters of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

As of Wednesday, 644 people with connections to the plant were infected, including 518 employees.

According to New York Times and KELO-TV data analysis, as of Wednesday, the number of localized cases at the Smithfield Plant made it the top hotspot in the country, with Chicago's Cook County Jail and the USS Theodore Roosevelt close behind.

Despite the numbers, Noem said she would not issue a stay-at-home order for Minnehaha and nearby Lincoln Counties, as Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken requested. Noem said a stay-at-home order wouldn't have made a difference in Sioux Falls because the plant would have remained open as part of a critical infrastructure business.

"What we are doing each and every day by getting up and using personal responsibility and taking actions at the local and state level, it is working," Noem said. "We are flattening our curve in South Dakota."

The company announced Sunday that it would close until future notice, and Noem said she's working with federal leaders and company officials to get it back up and running.

"This plant here is incredibly important, not just to Sioux Falls, not just to South Dakota, but to our nation. It provides our food for us," Noem said.

Noem said the Department of Health does a high level of contact tracing with people who test positive for COVID-19 and the state is isolating people in their homes and at hotels, KELO-TV reported.

Noem also announced Monday that South Dakota will run a comprehensive trial to see if an anti-malarial drug pushed by President Donald Trump is effective in treating COVID-19. Her announcement came the same day scientists in Brazil said they stopped part of their own study, after heart rhythm problems developed in one-quarter of people who were given a higher dose of the drug.

There are several other trials being conducted elsewhere. Noem said Tuesday that the South Dakota trial, which will include 2,000 patients, has already begun after the state received 1.2 million doses of hydroxychloroquine from the federal government.

South Dakota's death toll remained at six on Tuesday, with no new deaths reported in the state. Reported hospitalizations from the disease increased to 45. Of all reported cases, 261 people have recovered.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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