Factories pivot to fight coronavirus, but challenges abound

In this Nov. 11, 2014 photo, Ron Hudgins welds a 2015 Ford F-150 cab at the Dearborn Truck Plant in Dearborn, Mich. General Motors, Ford, jet engine maker Rolls-Royce and other companies are talking to their governments about repurposing idled factories to produce vital goods to fight the coronavirus such as ventilators and surgical masks. On Friday, March 20, 2020 President Donald Trump invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, allowing the government to marshal the private sector to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it allows the government to steer factories to overcome shortages, makers of heavy goods such as cars and trucks can't just flip a switch and produce something else.

DETROIT (AP) — Ford says it wants to reopen five North American assembly plants in April that were closed due to the threat of coronavirus.

The three Detroit automakers suspended production at North American factories March 19 under pressure from the United Auto Workers union, which had concerns about members working closely at work stations and possibly spreading the virus.

Union spokesman Brian Rothenberg said Thursday that the UAW is reviewing Ford's announcement “with great concern and caution.”

The company says it's aiming to reopen its factory in Hermosillo, Mexico, on April 6, followed by its Dearborn truck plant, Kentucky truck plant, the Ohio Assembly Plant and the Transit van line at the Kansas City plant on April 14. The factories were closed earlier this month under union pressure.

The company also wants to reopen parts-making plants to feed the assembly factories on the same day.

Ford says in a prepared statement that it will introduce additional safety measures to protect workers, but said it would give details later.

The decision comes as the number of people infected by the virus spikes in Michigan. On Wednesday the state reported t least 2,294 infections and that he number of deaths nearly doubled from 24, to 43.

Two Detroit-area hospital systems said they are caring for more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients at 13 hospitals. At Beaumont Health and Henry Ford Health System, operating rooms were being converted into intensive care units and clinics had been turned into rooms for patients needing other medical care.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he is hoping the United States will be reopened by Easter as he weighs how to relax nationwide social-distancing guidelines to put some workers back on the job during the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr. Betty Chu, of Henry Ford, predicted an “upcoming surge” in patients in Michigan, and Beaumont chief executive John Fox called on the state to invoke its power to balance care across eight regions in the state.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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