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Dearborn — Ford Motor Co. on Saturday announced it has signed contracts with health systems in four parts of the U.S. where it operates plants, including southeast Michigan, to make COVID-19 testing available to hourly and salaried employees who are experiencing possible symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

The announcement came as Ford, as well as General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, prepare to restart auto production on Monday after an eight-week shutdown prompted in part by rank-and-file workers who were concerned about the disease spreading in plants.

In southeast Michigan, where Ford employs approximately 46,000 people, the automaker is partnering with Beaumont Health for testing. Employees who exhibit symptoms of the virus — which as of Saturday had infected more than 50,500 people and killed 4,880 across the state — will receive a prescription for a test from an onsite doctor. The prescription will allow them to receive testing through Beaumont.

"Fast and accurate testing is a key tool in the effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19," Dr. Walter Talamonti, Ford's medical director, said in a statement. "These contracts will allow us to test employees with suspected symptoms and have results back within 24 hours. If they test positive, we can quickly identify close contact employees who may have been exposed and ask them to self-quarantine for 14 days.”

In Louisville, tests will be conducted by University of Louisville Health. In the Kansas City area, employees will be tested at Liberty Hospital. And in the Chicago area, testing will be provided by the University of Chicago Medical Center and UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Hospital. 

Expanded testing is something for which the United Auto Workers has advocated. The union, which is part of a coronavirus task force with the Detroit Three, has said it is advocating for as much testing as possible right now and full testing when available. 

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All three Detroit automakers have said they will help employees get tested if they are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to the virus. At the vast majority of its facilities across the country, GM will have onsite testing available to employees who are experiencing symptoms.

Ford's testing processes vary by area. In Louisville, symptomatic employees will first schedule a telemedicine appointment with a doctor. Employees in the Kansas City area can get a prescription on-site, then go to a drive-thru testing site. In Chicago, employees who need a test must call one of the health systems, then, if appropriate, will be given a same-day testing appointment.

Additionally, the company said it is looking into the possibility of offering voluntary antibody testing in the future.

Testing is one of numerous health and safety protocols Detroit automakers are putting in place as thousands of autoworkers start heading back to work in phases. Other measures include daily health self-certifications, temperature checks and providing personal protective equipment workers must wear.

jgrzelewski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JGrzelewski

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