Ford’s three shutdowns in two days signal bumpy factory restart

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(May 21): Ford Motor Co. temporarily closed two critical factories three separate times during a two-day period due to suspected Covid-19 cases, a practice that could become the normal course of business as manufacturers try to carry on through the pandemic.

Ford halted production at its Chicago Explorer SUV plant on Wednesday when a worker at a nearby supplier facility tested positive for the virus, casuing a parts shortage. That came after the auto manufacturer was forced to suspend operations at the factory for several hours on Tuesday after two of its own workers tested positive, according to a company spokeswoman.

Ford also stopped building F-150 pickup trucks, its biggest money maker, at its Rouge factory in Dearborn, Michigan, when a worker tested positive.

The company is working through the kinks of resuming output at its North American factories this week after idling them for two months to slow the spread of the virus. In each case, Ford said it conducted a deep cleansing of the afflicted employees’ work areas and sent anyone who came in close contact with them home to quarantine for two weeks. The hiccups haven’t led so far to a multi-day closure, as both the SUV and truck factories are scheduled to resume output later Wednesday.

“We’re all figuring this out together,” said spokeswoman Kelli Felker. “The most important thing is that we protect our employees’ safety, and that is exactly what we’re doing.”

Ford requires all workers to wear masks, has outfitted them with watches that buzz when they get too close to one another and uses thermal cameras to check temperatures as they arrive for their shift. But the temperature checks didn’t catch the workers who tested positive inside the plant, Felker said. Details on how they tested positive were unclear, she said.

Ford has publicly released a 64-page return-to-work playbook filled with safety measures it is enacting to protect workers’ health. It also asked President Donald Trump to wear a mask when he tours a Ford factory in Michigan on Thursday. The president has not committed to following that safety protocol.

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