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SD Dept. Health Knew of First Coronavirus at Smithfield on March 24

KELO Radio newsman Todd Epp asked the South Dakota Department of Health six important and straightforward questions about what the state knew about cases of coronavirus at the Smithfield Foods Sioux Falls slaughterhouse, when the state knew it, and what the state did about it. The state answered only two of them. [Passages in brackets are my commentary.]

1. When did the SDDOH know of the first case at Smithfield?


2. When was the patient notified about their infection?

Clinicians provide the initial notification to patients of their COVID-19 diagnosis. [A reasonable non-answer: the state may not have the information and might not normally be expected to have it.]

3. When was Smithfield notified about the positive test?


4. When was the City of Sioux Falls notified about the positive test?

SD-DOH has the responsibility for investigating reportable diseases, such as COVID-19, and the City of Sioux Falls does not receive notification of every positive case in a business. However, the Department of Health has been in daily communication with the City of Sioux Falls since the community began experiencing substantial community spread. In addition, the Department has a representative in the City of Sioux Fall’s emergency operations center. [Not an answer: “in daily communication” does not mean the state informed the city of the exact location of the hazard.]

5. Did Smithfield ask the SDDOH for advice on how to prevent additional infections? If so, when was that date?

SD-DOH has worked closely with Smithfield since the time of their first positive case. [Not an answer: “worked closely” doesn’t tell us what the work consisted of or whether it consisted of the company’s asking for advice.]

6. When did the SDDOH realize that they had a potential hotspot on their hands with Smithfield?

SD-DOH investigates all cases and informs employers, close contacts, and the public if there is a potential for spread of COVID-19. [Not an answer: “investigates” and “informs” has nothing to do with when or whether the Department recognized an imminent threat to public health.]

[citation: Todd Epp, “What the State of S.D. Knew and When It Knew It About COVID-19 at Smithfield,” KELO Radio, 2020.04.16.]

The two straight answers the Department of Health gives are significant. On March 24, the state was aware of one case of coronavirus in a particularly crowded, risky work environment run by a company with a record of dismissing health concerns as exaggerated. On April 9, sixteen days later, after 80 workers caught covid-19, the state had not publicly urged any action, mostly leaving Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken to lead that argument. On April 10, seventeen days after it learned of the first case at Smithfield, the state knew of 190 cases at Smithfield, and Governor Kristi Noem was blaming the media for not getting the whole story (the way she was, talking to Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan and not to any workers in Sioux Falls). On April 11, the Governor recommended that Smithfield close down for a couple weeks… but only after Mayor TenHaken first drafted a letter making that call and asked Noem to sign on with him.

And to this day, the Governor has not only resisted but rebutted the merits of a statewide stay-at-home order, not to mention an order shutting down a specific industrial site where she knew coronavirus was spreading back in March. Her public statements seem more focused on chatting with USDA chief Sonny Perdue about finding ways to reopen the meatpacking plant than on locking down the city to prevent further spread of coronavirus.

Today, April 16, with 733 cases linked to Smithfield Sioux Falls, Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan declaims, “For the security of our nation, I cannot understate how critical it is for our industry to continue to operate unabated.”

The explosion of coronavirus in Sioux Falls, facilitated by we cannot let Big Meat operate unabated; we must abate Smithfield’s and other meatpackers practices with some sensible health precautions, to protect their workers and the public at large. The state should have abated Smithfield’s operations by the end of March. Instead, the state remained silent and inert for two and a half weeks.

If the Smithfield outbreak had been held to 100, the number of coronavirus cases in South Dakota would be half of its current number (1,311 statewide, 1,065 in Minnehaha County).

We can’t wait until the numbers reach the top 20 or top 10 or top 5 to take action against a contagious and deadly disease. But the South Dakota Department of Health waited, failing putting the interests of a corporate behemoth in a favored industry above science and public safety.


  1. Korey Jackson 2020-04-16 19:25


    When did the Sioux Falls Department of Health and/or the Minnehaha Board of Health first learn about the Coronavirus at the Smithfield plant?

    Was OSHA involved?

    For that matter, what were the USDA inspectors reporting?

    Who has the primary responsibility for directing/ordering isolation, contact tracing, and directing/ordering quarantine? Of contacts? State, County, or City?

    If the City of Huron and Beadle County took comparatively swift and effective action in their outbreak in late March, why has the response in Sioux Falls seemed so…not swift and effective?

  2. Buckobear 2020-04-16 20:18

    Now our governor shows her true Trumpian colors. Oh the humanity. Unemployed, can’t pay your rent or utility bill? Sort it out for yourself on the street while pulling yourself up by the straps of your non-existent boots!
    Her lack of empathy is only surpassed by her unwillingness to increase testing for the virus (I’m sure that she has a plan) and waste time on testing the magical trump-flu drug that our dear leader owns stock in and is convinced will cure everything because someone told him so.
    Kristi has made it known that she wants a job in Washington. Too bad we can’t send her there now and get some real leadership. We had our chance, didn’t we?
    Question for kristi: when you get your trump job, will you be taking your ivanka and jared with you?

  3. Debbo 2020-04-16 20:26

    It’s so disappointing to see the number of people, all GOP, willing to prioritize $ over lives.

  4. Scott 2020-04-16 20:41

    The plant that could not be shut down is shut down. A significant number of workers will not be able to return when the plant reopens. With the infection rate I’m seeing, I would not be surprised if half the workforce will be out for several weeks.

    If swift action would have been taken early, the covid19 numbers could have been kept much smaller and the plant could have reopened with nearly a full crew.

    Net result of staying open and letting your workforce get infected is that overall pork production will be less then if the plant shut down early, got this under control and reopened.

    I’m still a believer that shutting down early is good and that is being backed up by cities and states that took swift action. Noem was doing good early on, but for the last 10+ days, she has let things get out of hand in SE SD.

  5. Curt 2020-04-16 20:53

    Try not to pull a muscle here. There is a problem which is primarily centered on the Chinese-owned Smithfield plant in Soo Foo. I am unable to know who the victims of COVID-19 may be – or their ethnicity – and that should not not be our focus. At this point, we are all on the same team. If our SD Health Dept is less than forthcoming with data which could reflect unfavorably on some private employer, people are shocked?
    This is a public health matter. We are the Public. It’s our health. Facts are more important than ever. Cory, please keep trying to pry that data out of the hands of those who would conceal and obfuscate.

  6. Donald Pay 2020-04-16 21:14

    This is a repeating problem in South Dakota, isn’t it? I know you might say, as Trump does, that this is something no one’s ever seen before. And it’s true that COVID-19 is new. But the pattern of crisis mismanagement seems to be on repeat.

    Let me make it clear that I’m not talking about things like tornados, forest fires or bad blizzards. These are relatively easy things to manage, and, let’s face it, there’s been plenty of practice in South Dakota.

    I’m struck by how much the mismanagement of other more complex events (sewage ash scam, Gilt Edge Mine, Northern Beef, and GEAR UP) resemble Noem’s screw ups with COVID-19. At first glance, these events are unrelated. They occurred under different Governors, even. Behind each one, however, is a lack of proper regulation and oversight, failure to connect the dots, failures to correct early problems, lack of transparency, discounting of whistleblowers or different points of view, attacks on the press when they report the truth, public relations rather than public accountability, and failure to hold people (especially corporations, since they are people, too) responsible.

    How do you correct those things?

  7. Scott 2020-04-16 21:27

    Many people are advocating that we should have never shut down. I understand the hardship this has placed on soo many people and I do not want to downplay that with what I’m about to say.

    There is another side to the equation so to speak.

    -If we had not shut down, what would have been the financial cost to medically treating all the people? How many insurance companies would have failed leaving people to pay their own medical bills and no life insurance for the dead’s families?

    -If we had not shut down, how would all the deaths impacted businesses. With significant deaths, that less people in restaurants, buying beef, pork, cereal, bread, cars, tv’s, and so forth. How many farmers would have lost their part-time older workforce?

    -If we had not shut down, how many parent would have died leaving kids without parents?

    -If we had not shut down, how many healthcare workers would have died and what does it cost to train and replace these people?

    I could keep going on. My point is that not doing anything also caries a very hefty cost as well.

  8. Clyde 2020-04-16 22:01

    Scott is right about costs that Smithfield and our leadership are unwilling to address but Smithfield is going to take a hair cut on this as they should. Hogs keep growing and eating. Smithfield is getting some mighty cheap feed right now but whoever ends up slaughtering these hogs isn’t going to do it unless they get them cheap. Keep it closed till the infection is under control.

    Food security that Trump is telling everyone not to worry about might actually be a problem. Sounds like there are no seasonal field workers for hand picked crops and now there is a case in the Seaboard hog plant in Sioux City. Hmmmm
    Two dead in a Tyson plant in eastern Ia.

  9. jerry 2020-04-16 23:37

    In Washington State, no evictions or rent hikes extended. “To help Washingtonians cope with the economic shutdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday extended and expanded his moratorium on evictions and froze residential rent increases. The order comes a month after Inslee announced a 30-day moratorium across the state on evictions for residential tenants.”

    GNOem wants you to die the slow miserable life that she lives. No empathy, only hate, that is her South Dakota way and more importantly, it happens to be her legislature’s point of view as well.

  10. Kim Conlin 2020-04-16 23:44

    BBC news has a long story about this. Definitely worth reading!!

  11. Debbo 2020-04-16 23:46

    Jerry, Gov. Walz has placed a similar moratorium on evictions and rent increases in Minnesota. I think Moscow Mitch, Insane Imbecile and their pals have chased out every decent Republican there used to be. Now all that’s left is these cruel SOBs.

  12. Debbo 2020-04-16 23:48

    Got a link, Kim?

  13. Debbo 2020-04-16 23:54

    Some West River renters are trying to protect themselves since Kruel Kristi doesn’t seem to give a damn. (Unfortunately, the story seems to have picked a really poor example.)

  14. jerry 2020-04-17 00:00

    CARES ACT was supposed to take care of the threat of evictions, but like everything else this bozoheaded governor has done, she’s failed at miserably. From the BBC to the world

    “On the afternoon of 25 March, Julia sat down at her laptop and logged into a phony Facebook account. She’d opened it in middle school, to surreptitiously monitor boys she had crushes on. But now, many years later, it was about to serve a much more serious purpose.

    “Can you please look into Smithfield,” she typed in a message to an account called Argus911, the Facebook-based tip line for the local newspaper, the Argus Leader. “They do have a positive [Covid-19] case and are planning to stay open.” By “Smithfield”, she was referring to the Smithfield Foods pork-processing plant located in her town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The factory – a massive, eight-story white box perched on the banks of the Big Sioux River – is the ninth-largest hog-processing facility in the US. When running at full capacity, it processes 19,500 freshly-slaughtered hogs per day, slicing, grinding and smoking them into millions of pounds of bacon, hot dogs and spiral-cut hams. With 3,700 workers, it is also the fourth-largest employer in the city.”


  15. jerry 2020-04-17 00:04


    “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—the government-sponsored enterprises—and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by halting evictions of renters living in properties they finance. In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), passed last week, makes it unlawful (PDF) to evict renters living in single-family and multifamily properties financed by federally backed mortgages (i.e., by Fannie, Freddie, and Department of Urban and Housing Development [HUD] loans) and renters living in federally assisted housing.

    This protection can help stabilize renters during an economically precarious time, but it doesn’t cover everyone. We estimate that eviction moratoria covering federally financed properties will apply to roughly 12.3 million (28 percent) of the 43.8 million US rental units.”

    GNOem is not being truthful with the law, but that shouldn’t be a surprise as this is what they do.

  16. Debbo 2020-04-17 00:41

    The Hill has covered Kruel Kristi’s failure as well.

  17. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2020-04-17 00:55

    It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback on this, but it’s quite conceivable that Sioux Falls officials knew about the potential problem since 3/24. But what were the state and city(Sioux Falls) responses to this? Nothing.

    Early on, Huron let us know what was going on at their meat packing plant, or actually what was not going on. There’s no winner here. Both the state and city with the help of health officials should have identified potential hot spots and acted accordingly, but they didn’t, because they were too busy debating “should” over “shall”.

    Unfortunately, now we have a governor who resists a shelter-in-place, while we have a mayor, who is a Sunday afternoon quarterback, playing in slow motion until the 24th of April, when his shelter-in-place goes into effect.

  18. Debbo 2020-04-17 01:00

    WGBtv is on it too:

    Kruel Kristi, “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.

    Does Kruel Kristi know about asymptomatic carriers? 🙄 🙄 🙄

  19. MD 2020-04-17 07:41

    It will be interesting to compare this response to the response of a small outbreak that is happening in Grand Forks at a wind turbine blade manufacturing plant that employs 900.
    The governor of ND has alluded that he doesn’t want this to turn into another Sioux Falls – they had a large scale testing event less than 48 hours after the first positives came in and the plant voluntarily closed.

    Just remember, with the lack of Medicaid expansion, the healthcare system will be absorbing a ton of uncompensated care if Noem let’s this get out of hand – further harming her the economy.

  20. mike from iowa 2020-04-17 08:33

    Let us remember and never forget, what damage a spoiled 2 year olde brat in the kremlin annex can do to Americans of all walks of life…..

    Last updated: April 17, 2020, 13:25 GMT
    April 14 – 15 Change in US Data
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

    Debbo, try this on fer sighs…..

  21. mike from iowa 2020-04-17 11:21

    You know the drill by now…..

    Coronavirus Cases:

  22. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-04-17 12:46

    From AAN:

    When asked by the American News about a positive case at DemKota, South Dakota State Epidemiologist Josh Clayton said there is one case under investigation that involves an employee at DemKota.

    “As we do with all the facilities we conduct an assessment of work close contacts as well as community close contacts of all positive cases making special recommendations to that plant to reduce the potential for transmission,” Clayton said [Kelda J.L.. Pharris, “Health Officials Confirm One Positive Case at Demkota,” Aberdeen American News, 2020.04.17].

  23. Eve Fisher 2020-04-17 12:51

    I say they’ll try to push it down the road until it’s at least 100. After all, it’s contained, isn’t it?

  24. mike from iowa 2020-04-17 14:24

    iwa just announced schools are out to the end of then year.

  25. Debbo 2020-04-17 14:30

    What a heartbreaking story, Mike. At the same time, it’s enraging. No wonder Greed is one of the 7 Deadly Sins.

  26. Debbo 2020-04-17 15:25

    Business types with intelligence are not so eager as Kruel Kristi and other greedy GOP to end shut downs.

    “If people don’t have confidence that it’s safe to go out and go to your job or go to a store, they’re just not going to go regardless of what the government says,” Joshua Bolten, CEO of the Business Roundtable.

    “Reopening the economy will look different across America — but it will mean very little anywhere if people don’t feel safe enough do the things that keep the economy humming.” Courtenay Brown, Axios

    “If we don’t get this right, the public health and economic costs could become even more daunting,” Suzanne Clark, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO. Axios

  27. Debbo 2020-04-17 15:31

    China lied. No surprise.

    “At least 50% more people died in China’s virus epicenter of Wuhan than previously announced, official state media admitted today.

    “Why it matters: The Chinese numbers have long appeared to be way off, and this shows how wholly unreliable they are.

    “The addition of 1,290 victims raised Wuhan’s death toll from 2,579 to 3,869, the most in China, AP reports.”


  28. Debbo 2020-04-17 15:32

    G O O D N E W S ! ! !

    “Coronavirus patients in a Chicago hospital recovered quickly after receiving remdesivir, a drug made by Gilead Sciences, according to STAT.

    “Why it matters, from Axios health care editor Sam Baker: It’s the latest positive sign for a drug that’s already seen as one of the most promising potential treatments for the novel coronavirus.

    “Between the lines: This is an anecdotal report, not the kind of rigorous clinical-trial data that can support firm conclusions about remdesivir’s effectiveness.

    “Gilead is set to release fuller clinical data later this month.”


  29. jerry 2020-04-17 16:47

    No amount of vaccines will make a difference without full testing and then mandatory injections of us all. We all saw how that works with measles and the idiots who won’t inoculated their kids.

    We will never get a hold on this until we realize that its dangerous.

    Here is how trumpian’s react to the Covid-19 virus

  30. jerry 2020-04-17 16:54

    Our numbers here in South Dakota are off as well as are the numbers from the rest of the country. New York has revised there’s as well. Without testing, we’re simply guessing just as China did.

  31. mike from iowa 2020-04-17 17:00

    Last updated: April 17, 2020, 21:53 GMT
    April 14 – 15 Change in US Data
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

    If the death curve flattened out, someone forgot to tell it.

  32. Debbo 2020-04-17 17:15

    Nice link Jerry. 😆

    Funders and supporters of the “grassroots” attacks on life saving shutdowns include Proud Boys, conservative armed militia groups, religious fundamentalists, anti-vaccination groups and other elements of the radical right, the DeVoid of All Humanity family, the Kochs, the Coors, Amon Bundy, and other lesser known, but no less ignorant, obnoxious and vile.
    The Guardian

  33. Debbo 2020-04-17 17:22

    Want to know how psycho a Demented Donny news conference is? Here you go.

    My Wild, Totally Surreal Experience Covering a Trump Coronavirus Briefing

  34. mike from iowa 2020-04-17 17:44

    We knew drumpf was a dictatorial moron, so what does that say about his magats?

  35. Debbo 2020-04-17 18:18

    Heading for ¾ million cases. Wow.

    Minnesota is at 2071 confirmed cases and 111 deaths.

    The JB plant in Worthington has a confirmed case now.

  36. Debbo 2020-04-17 18:39

    A little COVID-19 humor.

  37. jerry 2020-04-17 18:44

    hee hee, humor is always good medicine.

  38. mike from iowa 2020-04-17 18:49

    drumpf and wingnuts are the oldest, stalest jokes in the world.

  39. mike from iowa 2020-04-18 11:15

    Last updated: April 18, 2020, 16:09 GMT
    April 14 – 15 Change in US Data
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

  40. mike from iowa 2020-04-18 18:09

    Last report for today on drumpf body count…..

    Last updated: April 18, 2020, 22:37 GMT
    April 14 – 15 Change in US Data
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

  41. mike from iowa 2020-04-19 07:31

    Last updated: April 19, 2020, 12:28 GMT
    April 14 – 15 Change in US Data
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

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