Perdue at White House as Smithfield S.D, plant cases soar
As the number of workers who have tested positive for the coronavirus at the closed Smithfield meat plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., soared to 640 and The New York Times said, “South Dakota meat plant is now country’s biggest coronavirus hot spot,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at the White House that state and local officials have to work on keeping meat plants open.
Perdue said, “We need our local health authorities and our state health authorities to do everything they can to balance the demand of keeping our facilities operational and our critical industries going, while at the same time keeping the health and safety of employees as a top priority as well as our communities.”
Earlier, Perdue had tweeted that he was working with South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem on reopening the plant.
“The health & safety of our food supply chain workers is top priority. I’m working w/ @GovKristiNoem & @SmithfieldFoods to get the Sioux Falls pork plant reopened ASAP to help minimize disruptions to our critical food supply chain, while making sure employees working there are safe,” Perdue tweeted.
Perdue seemed to be responding to the concerns of pork producers who said in a call to reporters Wednesday that the closure of the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls and other plants has put producers with animals ready for slaughter in a dire situation.
National Pork Producers Council CEO Neil Dierks told reporters that the plants are “clean” and that “proper community action” is the issue.
But workers and union officials said Smithfield had not provided proper protective equipment and that workers stood close together in the plants.
On Wednesday, the total number of positive cases in South Dakota was 1,168, with six deaths, NBC News reported. The number is by far the largest in a rural state.
Noem, who has resisted issuing a shelter-in-place order, said in a news conference that the state is doing better than expected and “bending the curve.”
“We have cut our peak, and that’s a good thing, and that is encouraging to all of us,” Noem said at a news briefing. “Our health care system can handle what’s coming at us.” Later in the day, she scheduled a town hall meeting on the coronavirus.
A statewide lockdown would not have resulted in the closure of the Smithfield plant because meat plants are considered an essential industry.
Neither the pork producers nor Trump administration officials noted that Smithfield is Chinese-owned, but people who reacted to Perdue’s tweet and the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, noted the ownership.
Perdue’s main purpose at the White House was to assure the nation that the food supply is plentiful. Perdue likened any shortages that consumers see in grocery stores to a highway on which there has been a car crash and traffic is backed up.