SIOUX CITY -- Registering triple-digit increases in COVID-19 cases for the second straight day, metro Sioux City skyrocketed to the top of the nation's cornonovirus hot spots.
The surge came as local public health officials, for the first time, appeared to link much of the outbreak to the 4,300-employee Tyson Fresh Meats beef plant in Dakota City, Nebraska.
Woodbury County reported 129 new confirmed cases Friday, a single-day high that raised the county's total to 287. Dakota County, which disclosed 133 new infections on Thursday, added 29 more Friday, hiking its total to 295.
Counting three other smaller counties in the metropolitan statistical area, the metro's positive tests hit 601 Friday. Just a week earlier, there were just over 50 cases.
Local health officials warned the numbers likely will continue to rise in the coming days as the resulted of stepped up testing for the virus.
The rapid escalation landed the metro area at the top of the The New York Times' list of the U.S. cities with the highest daily growth rate. Metro Sioux City's cases have been doubling every day or so, according to the Times data.
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"Communities with a lot of cases and a high growth rate are on track to have a serious problem," the Times wrote. "A high growth rate on top of a large number of cases means that a still larger number of people are on track to become ill or die."
There has been one COVID-19-related death, a Sioux City man who worked at the Tyson facility, the company's largest beef plant. Tyson has confirmed that some workers have tested positive for the virus but have refused to provided a number.
For several days, local and state officials also have sidestepped questions about the plant and have gone out of their way not to even talk about the meat giant, citing state health care privacy laws. In a statement late Friday, though, Siouxland District Health, which serves Woodbury County, acknowledged that "a significant majority of the people in our community who have tested positive work in another state in industries that are particularly hard hit by COVID-19, or are close contacts of these workers."
"Siouxland District Health Department is not able to disclose the name of the business where these individuals are employed at this time," the statement said. "We are working to get the percentage of the current cases that are associated with this industry, and will have a better number when the contact tracing of all the new cases from today has been completed."
District health officials attributed part of the reason in the the sharp rise in infections to a "significant increase" in testing for the virus.
"As the testing increases, more confirmed cases are identified which require follow up, and may also call for more needed testing of contacts of the current cases," the department said in the statement. "This is a cycle that will likely continue for the near future and we anticipate seeing testing numbers, and confirmed cases, continue to increase."
Citing the increased testing, Siouxland District Health said Friday it will no longer provide daily reports on the gender and age range of the new cases.
A total of 1,347 tests have been performed in Woodbury County. Of the 287 confirmed cases, 30 patients have recovered. Seven remain hospitalized while five have been discharged from the hospital.
Dakota County Health Department is not providing data on the number of county residents who are hospitalized or have recovered from the virus.
Several other Siouxland counties recorded increases in their COVID-19 numbers Friday.
In southeastern South Dakota, Union County, part Sioux City metro, reported 3 news cases, raising its total to 11. Six have active infections, five have recovered and one was hospitalized, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.
In Northwest Iowa, Cherokee County recorded a second case, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Health. Dickinson and Crawford counties each recorded new case, raising Dickinson's total to four and Crawford's to eight. Ida and Sac are the only Northwest Iowa counties with no new cases.
Statewide, Iowa recorded an additional 521 cases of the virus Friday, bringing the state's total to 4,445, though this figure does not include all of Woodbury County's infections. Eleven more deaths attributed to the virus were reported Friday, bringing the state's death toll to 107.
South Dakota has a total of 2,040 cases of the virus, 1,190 of whom have recovered. Sixty-one people in the state are currently hospitalized, and 10 have died. The vast majority of the state's COVID-19 cases are concentrated in Minnehaha County, which has 1,707 cases, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on Friday reported a statewide COVID-19 tally of 2,421. The state's figures, which does not include all of Dakota County’s cases, continues to list Dakota as the fourth most-impacted county in the state, behind Hall, Douglas and Dawson counties. Fifty deaths associated with the virus have been recorded in the Cornhusker state.