UAW, Detroit automakers make face masks in plants optional

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Face masks are now optional at the Detroit Three's plants, the automakers and the United Auto Workers announced Tuesday.

The decision to make mask-wearing optional follows a meeting Monday of the COVID-19 Joint Task Force, a group formed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic to establish safety protocols and made up of the three automakers and the union. Each of the companies will communicate to its employees when the change goes into effect at their facilities.

The task force "strongly recommends" masking for those entering facilities in high-risk counties, as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a news release. The group also noted that the CDC recommends that individuals who are immunocompromised or otherwise at high risk for severe disease wear a mask or respirator. Masks still will be available for those who opt to wear them.

Employees enter the Warren Truck Assembly Plant on Nov. 9, 2020. A task force composed of the Detroit Three automakers and the United Auto Workers is lifting the mask mandate in U.S. facilities.

The task force also has encouraged employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, although the Detroit automakers stopped short of requiring hourly workers in the U.S. to get vaccinated.

The task force "will continue to monitor data carefully and make any adjustments necessary to protect the health and safety of employees," the group said in a news release.

The Detroit automakers have periodically changed their COVID-19 safety protocols over the course of the pandemic as key metrics have ebbed and flowed. In May, for example, Ford, GM and Stellantis reimplemented a mask mandate at their facilities in Michigan counties that the CDC had labeled as high risk for COVID-19 infection.

That move followed the task force announcing in early March that it was lifting face-covering requirements regardless of vaccination status, as long as facilities were in areas that weren't classified as high risk for transmission.

Last week, Michigan's hospitalization and new case rates declined for the fourth straight week, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services data. Much of southeast Michigan is classified by the CDC as being low risk, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard.

Cases are declining in about half the states in the country and reports of new deaths remain low, according to a New York Times update last week, but more than 100,000 cases are being announced each day across the country.

jgrzelewski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JGrzelewski