South Dakota governor defends decision not to issue stay-at-home order despite rise in cases

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem defended her decision not to issue a stay-home order Wednesday, despite a worrisome rise in the number of coronavirus cases and an outbreak forcing the closure of the Smithfield pork plant in Sioux Falls.

As of Wednesday, South Dakota has 1,168 COVID-19 cases and six deaths attributed to the virus. Of the cases, 51 were hospitalized and 329 have recovered.

"We trusted South Dakotans to exercise personal responsibility to keep themselves and their loved-ones healthy," Noem wrote on Twitter. "They've stepped up to the challenge. But some folks in the national press are improperly conflating that decision with the situation at Smithfield. Let's be perfectly clear: a shelter-in-place order would NOT have prevented Smithfield from happening. 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."

"We've been in frequent communication with @VP Pence, @SecretarySonny, and the CEO of Smithfield. We're working together on a plan to get the plant open as soon as it’s safe. A CDC team arrives today to help us assess the situation on the ground. Additional details soon. Stay strong South Dakota. Together, we will get through this."

Meanwhile, Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken is expected to announce a stay-at-home order for the city in response to the outbreak at Smithfield, according to the Argus Leader. According to a report, 80 of South Dakota's 180 new COVID-19 cases are Smithfield Foods employees, bringing the total to 518 Smithfield employees who have tested positive. There are also now 126 total cases of non-employees that became infected when they came into contact with a Smithfield employee, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. 

On Tuesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said that the pork plant closure and its proximity to the Minnesota border has made him concerned.