The facility, located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, became one of the nation’s largest Covid-19 hotspots before it closed earlier this month, with more than 783 employee cases and 206 cases stemming from employee contact, according to state health officials.
A CDC team made its recommendations after touring the plant last week.
Smithfield’s managers told the CDC it has a number of changes planned, including requiring facemasks for all employees, increasing the number of hand sanitizers and adding plexiglass barriers where workers can’t be spaced out.
It notes, however, that “recommendations are discretionary and are not required or mandated by CDC.”
Plant employees speak 40 different languages, managers say
One part of the report focused on the poor communication between management and employees there, who speak 40 different languages, according to Smithfield’s managers.
If an employee was found to have a fever or symptoms consistent with Covid-19, they were given an informational packet in English only and instructed to return home, according to the report.
Smithfield Foods announced April 12 that it would close the Sioux Falls location until further notice. The first case among employees was detected on March 24, the CDC report said.
“The plant informed us that all processing activities were completed on April 14, 2020,” the CDC report said, “and that the plant would be shut down indefinitely while Smithfield Foods continued extensive sanitation and modification efforts in the plant.”
The CDC team at the site was unable to obtain information on “the workstations of confirmed positive cases,” according to the report.
It has requested that information from Smithfield, and said recommendations could change once that is received.
The report also makes no mention of the source of the outbreak.
The company is reviewing the report, said Keira Lombardo, executive vice president for corporate affairs and compliance at Smithfield Foods.
“We will thoroughly and carefully examine the report point by point and respond in full once our assessment is complete,” Lombardo said in a statement.
South Dakota’s Department of Health ‘working with Smithfield’
Kim Malsam-Rysdon, the state’s secretary of health, said at a press conference Thursday that CDC members weren’t able to get the information on those specific workstations “because there weren’t workers at the plant” while the CDC was there.
The department has “been working with Smithfield to identify where exactly in the plant those positive cases occurred,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said the state’s department of health will work with Smithfield to assist the company in implementing the CDC’s recommendations “so that they can safely reopen the plant as soon as possible.”
Releasing the CDC report was a priority so “that we have an opportunity to get those folks back to work and to get this critical infrastructure business back online as soon as possible,” Noem said at the press conference.
“I don’t see any reason for there to be long delays, and we’re hoping to partner with them to open it as soon as possible,” Noem said.