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South Dakota Health Officials Report 98 Confirmed COVID-19 Cases 

This April 8, 2020 photo shows the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
This April 8, 2020 photo shows the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

South Dakota health officials reported 98 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, as the statewide total rose to 1,956.

More than half of the infections statewide have been tied to the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls. Employees who have confirmed infections grew to 801, and another 206 of their close contacts have tested positive.

Nine people have died so far statewide, including two people who worked at Smithfield. 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.

Smithfield closed the plant indefinitely last week because of the outbreak and faced complaints that it wasn't doing enough to protect its workers.

Gov. Kristi Noem on Thursday released a memo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that offers recommendations on how the plant can protect workers when it reopens. The governor said she would like to see that happen as soon as possible and offered help to Smithfield in implementing the recommendations.

The memo recommended that the operators of the plant implement a strict social distancing policy and find ways to overcome language barriers.

The CDC memo specifically addressed the situation at the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls but that also may give an indication of the broader recommendations that the agency is working on for meat processing plants nationwide.

A CDC team toured the plant last week and reported that the company had slowed down production lines to space workers farther apart and installed about 800 Plexiglas barriers along the lines. But even though there were only a few workers left in the plant, some were still gathering closer than 6 feet apart when not at their work stations or not wearing face masks, the team found.

Plant management told the CDC that more than 40 languages were spoken at the plant, making it difficult to communicate guidance to employees. The agency recommended that Smithfield post signs with pictograms and in more languages to communicate vital information to employees.

Smithfield is also planning to give workers a new face mask every day and to equip production staff with face shields, according to the CDC.

The CDC memo also stresses the importance reconfiguring parts of the plant to accommodate social distancing, including making sure workers don't congregate in locker rooms, cafeterias or break areas.

Smithfield has not said when it might reopen.

The governor also used her Thursday briefing to raise issues with the federal dollars coming her way as part of coronavirus relief passed through Congress. She said the money must be spent on addressing the global pandemic, but she would rather use it to make up for revenue loss in the state budget.

The state relies heavily on sales tax revenue, which Noem expects will be drastically behind expectations. The state also reported 5,128 people had made new claims for unemployment benefits last week.