Not with a switch, but with a dial. That's how workers will begin returning to their stations today as Detroit's automakers reopen their assembly lines amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It's the largest segment of Michigan's economy to return to work yet as the state's manufacturing sector slowly begins to turn its wheels into production.
What Ford, General Motors, and Fiat-Chrysler are attempting to do will be a first for all three companies - restarting its entire production line in completely new ways. "The idea of going off was difficult, going on is even more difficult because at the time we turned off, people weren't really sure what the virus was," Ford CEO Jim Hackett told FOX 2 on Friday.
Amid its unprecedented restart will come new workplace restrictions like mandatory social distancing, more personal protective equipment, staggered work shifts, and extended break times. When COVID-19's presence in Michigan was still misunderstood and the auto manufacturers still had their factories open, dozens of UAW employees were exposed to the virus. The companies must now keep their employees safe while churning out more vehicles.
"You social distance as you walk into the place, we make sure you sanitize your hands, you put a mask on right away, and that we feel is going to contain all those particles and droplets that come out of your mouth, your nose, when you talk, when you breathe, when you cough - keep it in that mask," Dr. Jeff Hess, GM's chief medical director told FOX 2.
Hess cited GM's Kokomo plant in Indiana and Warren plant as factories that have already implemented these safety measures when its workers went back to the front lines to manufacture ventilators and masks. He also said every one of its facilities will have health centers open to care for any workers.
The three companies also received the blessing from its union representatives over the weekend, which thanked the workers already back on the assembly lines and promised to continue protections for its workers in the future.
"The UAW will continue to do everything we can to protect the health and safety of all members as plants reopen. We will continue to be vigilant in protecting the health and safety of our members, their families, and their communities. And we will continue to advocate for as much testing as possible and full testing as it becomes available,” read a statement.
State health officials are trying to balance economic restarts like Monday's return of the Big 3 while keeping the virus at bay. So far, Michigan's progress in the latter goal has been successful, per the state's reported daily coronavirus count on Sunday when only 11 more people were confirmed dead. As COVID-19's spread has fallen in Michigan, the governor has relaxed rules in different sectors of the economy that are deemed prepared to return to work. Manufacturing was the latest industry to receive the green light to go back to work last Monday.
The loosening rules places Michigan in phase three of Gretchen Whitmer's six-phase plan to return to work. Getting to the next phase will require sharp declines in new cases and deaths, as well as continued strengthening of the state's health care capacity and robust testing and contact tracing protocols in place.
There's evidence that the first two requirements have already been achieved. Of those 11 new deaths reported, none were from Detroit - which was previously deemed the state's epicenter for new cases and higher fatality rates. At the same time, the city has also shut down its makeshift hospital at the TCF Center which would hold patients if hospitals became too overwhelmed.
Michigan has also increased its testing capacity to more than 10,000 tests completed every day. Experts believe for any state or city to fully reopen, it'll require bolstering its screening capacity by much more. One study out of Harvard recommended Michigan needed at least 58,000 daily tests to safely restart.
Weekend rains bleed into a flood watch for all of Monday and into the evening.
Poll: 63% of religious Americans believe COVID-19 pandemic is message from God for humanity to change
The coronavirus has prompted almost two-thirds of American believers of all faiths to feel that God is telling humanity to change how it lives, a new poll finds.
While the virus rattles the globe, causing economic hardship for millions and killing more than 85,000 Americans, the findings of the poll by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicate that people may also be searching for deeper meaning in the devastating outbreak.