Our view: Is trusting businesses right move for SD?

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South Dakotans are operating on a lot of trust with the coronavirus pandemic.

We’re all trusting each other to stay at home, as Gov. Kristi Noem, local mayors and government officials have not mandated it.

We’re trusting each other to cut down on unnecessary events and gatherings and limit our trips to the store.

We’re all trusting each other to socially distance, to wash our hands, to self-quarantine if we’re sick.

Our state has heard a lot of feedback nationally for not issuing a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order. The trust is in Noem to take the correct path, because South Dakota has had its share of issues in its pandemic response, from testing supply shortages to disjointed public messaging and limited information released to the public.


It is apparent we don’t have a shelter-in-place order, in part, because we’re trying to keep people at work, hoping to keep as much of our economy running as possible. Adults are counting on paychecks to feed their families and keep their homes, while trying to keep their families safe and make sure their children are getting an at-home education, too. Our state might have 400 cases — relatively few nationally — but this is a stressful time for everyone.

By now, it's obvious what South Dakota is doing. The state is trying to play a balancing game. It is trying to limit or close places where people gather in-person, but also allow some businesses to stay open, risking a severe spread of the virus. It’s a perilously fine line to walk.

That’s why the news Wednesday about the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls is distressing, with at least 80 positive cases of COVID-19. The plant had its first case of the coronavirus on March 26, so the news about how much the virus has exploded within that plant and in the community in a two-week span is terrifying. Despite what state and local officials are assuring, there’s no proof the case count is under control in Sioux Falls.

Smithfield, whose operations have been deemed federally essential, has said it is taking all of the precautions that are becoming common in many places of business to protect its employees: adding personal protective equipment, increasing social distancing, installing plexiglass barriers. But clearly that hasn’t stopped the virus in its tracks.

Those 80 employees go home and they come in contact with family members or children. It’s easy to see how this virus can exponentially spread, get people sick, and ultimately cause people to die. That’s how nearly 60 percent of the state’s cases end up in Minnehaha County.

On Thursday morning, Smithfield said it would close its Sioux Falls plant for three days to clean its facility and to enhance measures to protect its employees. That move was necessary, because Smithfield could not go on without taking some sort of action.

If we’re trusting South Dakotans to make the correct decisions, that has to apply to industry and our economy as well. Yes, farmers expect Smithfield to continue buying pigs to produce pork products and consumers are counting on meat continuing to land in grocery store’s cases.

But businesses of all sizes can’t continue operating irresponsibly if it is a source of employees getting sick.


With what we think is a relaxed mindset on business through this pandemic, everyone needs to do what they can to stay healthy. South Dakotans are trusting businesses to take the correct actions to keep our communities safe. Otherwise, the spread throughout Smithfield will be the first of many cases of its kind in our state.

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