Why an Aberdeen plant is running 24/7 because of Coronavirus

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The “Hub City” has turned into the hub of coveted protection against Coronavirus, as an Aberdeen 3M manufacturing plant is now running 24 hours a day to keep up with global mask demand.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kristi Noem said the state is prepared if an outbreak happens here, but downplayed the risk.

“There is a low risk for South Dakotans to become infected with coronavirus,” Noem said in a statement. “Regardless, we are prepared. We have the right people and plans in place to handle this situation in the event it is detected in our state.”

In a presentation to the medical community in the state, the South Dakota Department of Health called COVID-19, a Coronavirus, “an emerging, rapidly evolving situation.”

South Dakota lab now testing for COVID-19

The presentation on Thursday morning with more than 600 South Dakota health professionals discussed the steps Noem’s administration is taking. The governor has directed the state to start an agency task force, develop an action plan and ensure the State Public Health Laboratory is ready to test for COVID-19.

  • Photos Courtesy: Office of the Governor

Noem visited the state lab on Wednesday. The same day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention widened the screening criteria.

“We are currently working on updating how we will report test results/cases on our website and plan to have that system in place by the end of the week,” a South Dakota Department of Health spokesperson told KELOLAND News.

FILE – This undated file photo provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows CDC’s laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus. (CDC via AP, File)

As of Thursday afternoon, there are no cases under investigation in the state.

Cases climb in U.S. and globally, Trump questions data

Across the country, the number of cases and deaths are both rising. As states and the federal government attempt to ramp up prevention efforts, President Donald Trump called World Health Organization data on the rate of deaths inaccurate.

“I think the 3.4 percent is really a false number,” Trump said Wednesday on Fox News during a phone interview. “Now, this is just a hunch, but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this.”

The 3.4 percent is currently the rate at which people with confirmed cases are dying, according to the World Health Organization.

“Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

That number is expected to fluctuate as the outbreak continues, but WHO officials called out responses from some countries.

“This is not a drill. This is not the time for giving up. This is not a time of for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops,” Ghebreyesus said Thursday at a daily briefing in Geneva. “Countries have been planning for scenarios like this for decades. Now is the time to act on those plans.”

The mask hub in the hub city

As Vice President Mike Pence offers a handshake at the end of their meeting, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm offers a virus-free elbow bump instead as Vice President Pence visited 3M World Headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota, meeting with 3M leaders and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz to coordinate response to the COVID-19 virus Thursday, March 5, 2020. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP)

The Trump-appointed leader of the Coronavirus outbreak, Vice President Mike Pence, was in the Minnesota meeting with officials at 3M on Thursday.

3M’s Aberdeen plant is running 24/7 to keep up with global demand for masks. Courtesy: 3M

The company, with plants in Brookings and Aberdeen, is the nation’s leading manufacturer of masks.

“You should know, we’re ready and we’re going to continue to bring the full resources of the federal government to bear to confront the spread of the coronavirus in the United States,” Pence said after meeting with 3M CEO Mike Roman and Gov. Tim Walz (D-MN) at the company’s global headquarters just outside Minneapolis.

The Aberdeen plant, according to 3M’s website, is one of only two which produces respirators.

The company said employees “are working around the clock to help address the demand for respirators.”

Tim Hofer is a machine operator at the Aberdeen plant, producing thousands of 3M N95 respirators.

“We know what we have to do. We know we need to keep our numbers up. We know we need to keep ourselves safe, and we need to put out great quality,” Hofer said in a statement. “And that’s what we’ve come here to do.”

The company said global demand for masks is currently exceeding supply.

Andy Rehder is Aberdeen’s plant manager. The plant has gone from a standard five-day week to more of a seven-day week, with additional equipment being setup at the plant.

“We immediately ramped up production in this facility,” Rehder said a statement.

On Thursday, after meeting with 3M leaders, Pence asked Americans to do their part to help.

“I do have a word to the average American about how you can help as well,” Pence said. “Unless you are ill, you have no need to buy a mask.”

The Aberdeen plant has been on the front line of global disasters and pandemics before, ramping up production during the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, Sept. 11, 2001, anthrax attacks, the SARS outbreak, Avian Flu, Hurricane Katrina, H1N1, Ebola and the MERS outbreak.

The plant is hiring extra seasonal workers.

State and federal officials promote preparedness

State officials are keeping in contact with the federal government. Noem spoke with Pence earlier in the week during a call with other governors, according to her office.

South Dakota’s Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon echoed Noem saying the risk is low in the state.

“However, we know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. South Dakotans can help stop the spread of germs by washing hands often, covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning surfaces regularly, and staying home if you are sick,” she said.

While the Noem administration continues to say the risk is low in the state, on Wednesday, Malsam-Rysdon told state lawmakers they are assuming infections are inevitable.

“(It’s) probably not if, but when,” she said.

Malsam-Rysdon said her department is also looking at plans to slow community spread. She said officials may have to look at closures of schools, workplaces and mass events, in the event of a major outbreak.

The agency will be continuing to do webinars for providers across the state.

On the federal level, the Senate passed an $8.3 billion measure on Thursday. All of South Dakota’s Congressional delegation voted for the legislation.

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