COVID-19 cases in Ford's Dearborn, Chicago plants cause temporary shutdowns

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. confirmed Wednesday that it was forced to temporarily shut down production at two of its plants — one in Dearborn and the other in Chicago — because of workers testing positive for COVID-19.

A Ford F-150 truck rolls off the line at Dearborn Truck Plant.

The Dearborn Truck Plant, where Ford assembles the F-150 and Raptor pickups, halted production Wednesday after an employee there tested positive for the virus, Kelli Felker, Ford's global manufacturing and labor communications manager, said in a statement. Production is expected to resume Wednesday night.

"When a Dearborn Truck Plant employee who returned to work this week tested positive for COVID-19, we immediately began to notify people known to have been in close contact with the infected individual and asked them to self-quarantine for 14 days," Felker said. "We are deep cleaning and disinfecting the work area, equipment, team area and the path that the team member took."

In Chicago, two employees who returned to work this week tested positive for the virus. The same protocols were applied in those cases, and Chicago Assembly now is running again. Due to the known incubation time of the virus, Ford said "we know (these employees) did not contract COVID-19 while at work."

The cases illustrate the potential perils of restarting production amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 5,000 lives in Michigan. Autoworkers employed by Detroit's automakers returned to work Monday following an eight-week shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At facilities operated by all three companies, employees must follow stringent health and safety protocols that are designed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in plants. Those protocols include wearing personal protective equipment, having their temperatures checked before entering, and daily health self-certifications. 

While COVID-19 testing is not available to the entire workforce of any of the automakers, all are making testing available to employees who are experiencing symptoms of the virus or who believe they have been exposed to it. Ford, for example, has contracts with health systems in major metro areas where it operates. In southeast Michigan, the Blue Oval is partnering with Beaumont Health on testing. 

General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said Wednesday they have not been forced to stop production at their plants. Starting and stopping production is costly and something automakers would prefer to avoid — except for potential health and safety concerns.

Monday's resumption of production was the first time that the entire global automotive supply chain and major automakers all came back online at once, posing a major test to the industry. After a two-month shutdown in which the automakers bled billions of dollars, the goal has been to make the restart process as smooth as possible.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski