The South Dakota slaughterhouse linked to more than half the state's coronavirus cases had offered employees a $500 'responsibility bonus' to come to work in April

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The South Dakota slaughterhouse linked to more than half the state's coronavirus cases had offered employees a $500 'responsibility bonus' to come to work in April

smithfield foods south dakota coronavirus

Stephen Groves/AP

Employees and family members protest outside a Smithfield Foods processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on April 9, 2020.

Workers at a slaughterhouse in South Dakota, which is responsible for around half of the state's coronavirus cases, were incentivized to come into work during the pandemic with the promise of a $500 "responsibility bonus."

The Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, which processed pork products, closed indefinitely on Sunday.

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According to local newspaper the Argus Leader, 644 coronavirus cases have been connected to the plant - more than half of all cases in South Dakota state. And one of its workers, a 64-year-old man, died on Tuesday, according to the Argus. 

As of early Thursday, South Dakota has recorded 1,168 coronavirus cases and six deaths, according to The Guardian. As such, it is one of the least affected states in the country.

Despite this, the Sioux Falls plant, one of numerous Smithfield Foods sites, has become the US' biggest single-source location for coronavirus infections, The New York Times reported

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Smithfield Foods CEO Kevin Sullivan said in a Wednesday statement that meat processing is a crucial part of the country's food supply in this time of crisis.

"For the security of our nation, I cannot understate how critical it is for our industry to continue to operate unabated," he said. 

In a YouTube video published on April 6, Sullivan also announced the "responsibility bonus" for all hourly workers in the company.

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This applies to anyone who does not miss a shift in April, reported the Argus Leader.

However, the company announced on April 14 that the bonus would still be given to workers who miss work due to coronavirus exposure or infection. 

The man who died, Augustín Rodriguez, had continued to come to his shifts because he needed the work, despite experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, his wife told the Argus Leader. 

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The company announced several workplace measures on April 9 to help safeguard workers from the virus, including thermal scanning, enhanced cleaning, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizing stations, and expanded health benefits. It also said it increased social distancing and installed plexiglas barriers. 

At this time, more than 80 workers had already been infected, according to the Argus Leader.

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smithfield foods south dakota coronavirus

Charlie Neibergall/AP

A package of Smithfield Foods breakfast sausage sits in a shopping cart outside of a local grocery story, in Des Moines, Iowa, on April 14, 2020.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, has so far resisted implementing a stay-at-home order, as Business Insider's Jake Lahut reported. She is one of five governors in the US who have yet to implement even a partial order.

Noem defended her decision to keep the state open after the Smithfield closure, saying that the company is a critical infrastructure business and it would have stayed open anyway. 

Smithfield Foods announced on Wednesday that two further plants in Wisconsin and Missouri will close.

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Both sites have experienced coronavirus cases and are also dependent on the produce from the South Dakota plant, the company said. 

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