South Dakota governor still refuses safety measures after 400 get sick in outbreak

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Employees have blamed the lack of social distancing protocols inside and outside of the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls for the outbreak.

South Dakota's Kristi Noem, one of a handful of Republican governors still refusing to issue stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus, justified her inaction on Wednesday in a series of tweets. Her argument: A massive outbreak that occurred at a pork plant in her state would not have been prevented by such an order.

"We trusted South Dakotans to exercise personal responsibility to keep themselves and their loved-ones healthy. They've stepped up to the challenge. But some folks in the national press are improperly conflating that decision with the situation at Smithfield," Noem said.

"Let's be perfectly clear: a shelter-in-place order would NOT have prevented Smithfield from happening," she argued. "They are a critical infrastructure business. They are part of the nation's food supply chain and contribute to South Dakota's role feeding the country and the world."

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More than 400 workers at the now-shuttered Smithfield Foods pork plant in Sioux Falls have fallen ill.

Employees have blamed the lack of social distancing protocols inside and outside of the factory for the outbreak.

"There is no social distance," a former worker at the plant told the Washington Post on Monday. "Many people are sick. Not only in the plant — in the whole city," she said.

While Noem has suggested that it is up to individuals to stop the spread of the virus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on April 2 that universal stay-at-home orders were essential to curbing the rate of infection. "If you look at what's going on in this country, I just don't understand why we're not doing that. We really should be."

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican who has issued a stay-at-home order in her state, said Wednesday, "All indicators suggest that it is working, and I cannot overemphasize enough the importance of it — and in fact, it is imperative that we keep doing what we are doing." Public health officials in Alabama have noted the order has helped reduce infections and improve the state's projected number of cases.

Trump administration modeling found that implementing stay-at-home orders and other social distancing efforts had already significantly reduced the predicted ultimate death toll from the coronavirus.

In an article published in the New York Times on Tuesday, two epidemiologists wrote that, while social distancing has helped, "an estimated 90 percent of the cumulative deaths in the United States from Covid-19, at least from the first wave of the epidemic, might have been prevented by putting social distancing policies into effect two weeks earlier, on March 2, when there were only 11 deaths in the entire country."

As of Wednesday, more than 1,100 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in South Dakota. The metro Sioux Falls area now has more cases per capita than some larger cities, including Seattle. Paul TenHaken, the Republican mayor of Sioux Falls, asked Noem over the weekend to issue a stay-at-home order at least for his community for the next three weeks. Noem refused to do so, claiming she was basing her decisions on "science, facts, and data."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.