A major meat processing plant in Sioux Falls that temporarily shut down due to a COVID-19 outbreak is resuming operations Thursday.
Smithfield Foods is beginning a "phased" approach to reopening after receiving confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the company is in compliance with both CDC and OSHA guidelines, according to a press release from the company.
Some employees first returned to work on Monday, though the plant did not resume operations at that point. Company officials say they plan on reopening the harvest floor on May 11, and they anticipate the facility will be fully operational by late May.
The plant closed on April 12 after a COVID-19 outbreak sickened hundreds of employees. In all, over 800 workers were diagnosed with the disease, and two died.
A CDC team later toured the plant to examine Smithfield's COVID-19 response measures. They issued several recommendations, including better communication with non-English speakers and improved social distancing efforts, in a report issued last month.
Company officials say employee health and safety is "at the core" of its reopening plan. Smithfield says they are providing workers with PPE, including masks and shields, and has created barriers to improve social distancing. In addition, over 2,000 employees have been tested for COVID-19, and the company says more testing will be available in the future.
“I toured the plant with our Joint Union Management Safety Committee and was impressed with the measures put in place to protect employees," said BJ Motley, president, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 304A via a press release. "Smithfield is doing everything they can for the employees and their safety. We stand with Smithfield to get this plant back open."
The plant's reopening comes after President Donald Trump recently issued an executive order labeling meat processing plants as "vital infrastructure."
Several other meat processing plants in the region, including JBS in Worthington, Minn. and Tyson Foods in Dakota City, Neb., were temporarily shuttered due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Many of those plants have began reopening plans of their own.
Smithfield Foods's Sioux Falls plant is one of the nation's largest meat processing facilities, processing four to five percent of the nation's pork. It employs roughly 3,700 people.