SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Jack Link's Protein Snacks has confirmed an employee at its Alpena beef jerky plant has died from COVID-19, as an outbreak there grows to 59 known cases, state officials confirmed Wednesday, May 27.

Kevin McAdams, North America president of the Minong, Wis.-based company, said Jack Link's was "deeply saddened" by the death.

"Our entire Jack Link’s family mourns the loss of our fellow team member, and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family, friends, and coworkers," he said in a Tuesday statement. He didn't identify the worker who died.

The South Dakota Department of Health reported four new COVID-19 fatalities on Wednesday, raising the state's death toll to 54.

It's unclear if the Jack Link's fatality was included in Wednesday's data release. The latest fatalities weren't in Jerauld County, where the plant is located, or any surrounding county, according to state officials.

It can take up to five days for the state to receive a death certificate and update the state's COVID-19 information website. State officials have consistently refused to release specific information on individual deaths, citing privacy concerns.

Sixteen of the 59 diagnosed Jack Link's employees have recovered, said Dr. Josh Clayton, state epidemiologist.

Health officials help with plant outbreak

State health officials said Wednesday they're working with Jack Link's to limit the spread of COVID-19 at the plant.

"We've reached out several times to share information with the folks at Jack Link's and hope to continue to partner with them," said Kim Malsam Rysdon, secretary of the state Department of Health.

Department officials have offered to conduct mass testing at the facility and offered personal protection equipment, she said.

"We do know they've made some changes to their environment to help with physical distancing, with hand washing and some of those kinds of things," she said.

In his statement, McAdams of Jack Link's detailed a number of changes the company has made in its facilities due to the pandemic, following federal health guidelines. Those changes have included daily temperature and symptom checks and mandatory protective equipment made readily available, he said.

At the state's other known large outbreaks in processing plants, 117 of the 149 infected workers at the DemKota Ranch Beef plant in Aberdeen have recovered, as have all but 12 of the hundreds of cases linked to the outbreak at the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls.

State logs third-biggest testing day

There are 1,037 South Dakotans who currently have the illness, a number that has remained steady for a week. There are 101 South Dakotans currently hospitalized from the virus, and the number of those hospitalized has been generally rising over the past week.

Testing has uncovered an additional 57 cases of COVID-19 in the state, for a total of 4,710, according to the Department of Health. State, private and clinical labs processed 1,598 tests for a total of 38,636.

A state-coordinated, four-week mass testing of senior care and assisted care facilities, now in its second week, has created a surge in daily testing totals. This was the third-biggest day for testing, and 20% of all COVID-19 tests conducted in South Dakota have been processed in the last week, according to a Forum New Service analysis.

Malsam Rysdon said the testing effort has tested 1,899 residents and 2,754 staff, with 6,600 tests in progress and 4,400 tests scheduled. The state will release specific information on the testing in the future, Malsam Rysdon said.

"I can tell you the number of positives have been very low, so we appreciate that," she said.

Only 3.6% of the day's tests were positive, significantly below the the state's running average of 12.1%, according to a Forum News Service analysis.

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