South Dakota governor rejects stay-at-home order as pork plant coronavirus cases climb

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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) – South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said the number the rest of the country should be focusing on is hospitalizations, not the number of positive cases in the state.

“The fact that we’re finding these positives is not a bad thing,” Noem said during a Thursday press conference.

On Thursday, the South Dakota Department of Health reported the state’s seventh death and 143 new cases statewide. Minnehaha County also passed 1,000 cases.

For the first time since the pandemic began, the state confirmed the number of current patients in the hospital. Noem said there are 36 COVID-19 positive people in the hospital, as of Thursday. She also said they will attempt to begin releasing that number daily.

Overall 55 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

“Now, remember we’re planning for 5,000 (patients),” Noem said. “We’re in a good spot… but let’s keep our perspective.”

The hospitalization rates were the main driver of the changes in models released on Wednesday, Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon clarified on Thursday. She said the statewide Hydroxychloroquine trial is not part of the projections.

“What we’re doing in South Dakota is working,” Noem said.

The Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., is seen Wednesday, April 8, 2020, where health officials reported more than 80 employees have confirmed cases of the coronavirus (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)

The governor also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finished its tour of the Smithfield Foods plant and expect to release the report in the coming days.

Noem said she had texted with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture on Thursday and continued conversations with Smithfield management to get the plant reopened.

“We’re working closely with the plant to make sure it’s a safe environment,” Noem said.

The latest numbers show there are 598 cases related directly to Smithfield employees and an additional 135 cases related to contacts of Smithfield cases. That creates a total of 733 cases connected to the plant.

Noem made national news this week for the surge in cases and Smithfield becoming the number one hotspot in the country, while not taking a statewide or targeted stay-at-home order.

“I know that the national news is talking about the hotspot in the nation,” she said. “We are aggressively testing this population … we are testing more than any other states. We’re letting the public know exactly what we’re doing.”

State health officials said earlier in the day on Thursday that they are not testing employees who don’t show symptoms.

On Wednesday night, the Sioux Falls City Council moved forward an ordinance for a stay-at-home order for the city. Noem called on other local leaders to take action if they feel necessary.

“It is a serious situation, and we’re taking it that way,” Noem said.

The governor also addressed the economy. South Dakota has had more than 22,000 initial unemployment claims since the week ending March 14.

“It’s alarming, and next week will be even worse,” Noem said.

She said the pandemic unemployment application goes live next week, which will help those who are self-employed or gig workers.

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