US coronavirus death toll passes 25,000

New York, Apr 14 (efe-epa).- The Covid-19 coronavirus has claimed more than 25,000 lives in the United States and the number of infections is approaching 600,000, Johns Hopkins University said Tuesday.

New York state accounts for nearly half of all US deaths, but the pandemic has reached every corner of the country, including sparsely populated South Dakota, which is home to fewer than 900,000 people.

The state’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, refuses to impose a shelter-in-place, denouncing what she called a “herd mentality” and insisting: “South Dakota is not New York City.”

Even so, she supported officials in South Dakota’s largest city in urging Smithfield Foods to shut a pork plant where 350 workers have tested positive.

The food giant’s operation in Sioux Falls has a staff of 3,700, many of them immigrants.

After initially agreeing to close the plant for three days to allow for cleaning and disinfection, Smithfield management said Monday the facility was closing indefinitely.

The Sioux Falls installation produces 5 percent of all the pork consumed in the US and is one of a number of major food processing operations across the country to be sidelined by the pandemic.

JBS USA temporarily suspended operations at plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, while announcing the indefinite shutdown of its giant beef-packing plant in Greeley, Colorado, after at least 50 workers tested positive for Covid-19 and two employees died after becoming infected.

Tyson Foods called a short-term halt to work at a pork plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, where dozens of employees have fallen ill.

Though he agreed to close the plant in Sioux Falls, the Smithfield CEO, Kenneth Sullivan, appeared to criticize the reasoning behind the request from officials.

“We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of Covide-19,” he said in a statement, claiming that the closing of plants “is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.”

Industry-watchers, however, downplayed the idea of national shortages.

“There likely will be a drop in the number of types of products that are on the shelves,” Christine McCracken, senior analyst of animal protein for RaboResearch, said, while rejecting that the total supply of meat in the US will see a significant decline.

EFE jfu/dr

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