Smithfield pushes back after claims it blamed immigrant workers for coronavirus cluster

The CDC says Smithfield should find ways to overcome language barriers

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Smithfield Foods is pushing back after media reports that it blamed immigrant workers for a coronavirus cluster at its temporarily closed Sioux Falls, South Dakota, pork processing plant.

"We're proud of the multi-culturalism on display every day throughout many of our facilities, including in Sioux Falls," the company said in a statement. "Our employees are our strength. They come from all over the world and speak dozens of languages and dialects. Our position is this: We cannot fight this virus by finger-pointing. We all have a responsibility to slow the spread."

STOPPING CORONAVIRUS IN US MEAT PLANTS NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE, EXPERTS SAY

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended that the operators of the South Dakota meatpacking plant where nearly 800 workers contracted the coronavirus implement a strict social distancing policy and find ways to overcome language barriers.

The CDC memo specifically addressed the situation at the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls but it may also give an indication of the broader recommendations that the agency is working on for meat processing plants nationwide. Smithfield closed the plant indefinitely because of the outbreak and faced complaints that it wasn't doing enough to protect its workers.

In this April 9, 2020 file photo employees and family members protest outside a Smithfield Foods processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves File)

Plant management told the CDC that over 40 languages were spoken at the plant, making it difficult to communicate guidance to employees. The agency recommended that Smithfield post signs with pictograms and in more languages to communicate vital information to employees.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken wrote to Smithfield in mid-April and urged the company to suspend operations for 14 days so that its workers could self-isolate and the plant could be disinfected.

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"We believe that 99 percent of what's going on today wasn't happening inside the facility," Noem told Fox News on April 13. "It was more at home, where these employees were going home and spreading some of the virus because a lot of these folks that work at this plant live in the same communities, the same buildings, sometimes in the same apartments."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.