WARREN, Mich. – More than 130,000 autoworkers returned to factories across the U.S. for the first time in nearly two months Monday in one of the biggest steps to restart American industry.
Automakers reopening dozens of factories had screening procedures in place. No one was immediately cranking out vehicles, because it will take time to get the plants restarted. But workers appeared reassured by the precautions.
At a Fiat Chrysler pickup truck assembly plant in Warren, outside Detroit, workers entered a giant white tent with a sign reading, “Let's restart and keep each other safe.” Inside they had their temperatures checked and answered questions on whether they had symptoms of COVID-19.
“I feel safer than being anywhere at any stores, because they got the screening and everything,” said Ann'alazia Moore, a janitor at the factory. “I feel like that's amazing. That's smart. I like that. So, I feel more safe. I won't get sick.”
Cole Stevenson, who installs steering wheels at a Ford pickup truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, said, “The parts of the plant where people would be closer together, they've put up a lot of partitions. You can tell they've taken tape measures to just about any surface two people would need to be near each other.”
Despite warnings from health experts that the virus could make a resurgence without a vaccine or treatment, many states have eased lockdowns under pressure from President Donald Trump to save businesses and livelihoods. About 36 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits over the past two months, and U.S. joblessness surged in April to 14.7%, a level not seen since the Depression.
U.S. health authorities will be watching closely for a second wave of infections and worry that Americans will disregard social distancing over Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer. Over the past weekend, there were already large crowds. Connecticut had to close beaches when they reached capacity under new restrictions. People also packed the Virginia Beach oceanfront before restrictions were relaxed.
Europe pushed ahead with its reopening, allowing people into the Acropolis in Athens, high-fashion boutiques in Italy, museums in Belgium, golf courses in Ireland and beer gardens in Bavaria.
More than 4.7 million people worldwide have tested positive for the virus and over 315,000 deaths have been recorded, including about 90,000 in the U.S. and over 160,000 in Europe, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Those figures are believed to understate the true dimensions of the outbreak because of limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by some governments.
With new infections and deaths slowing considerably in Europe, many countries are preparing to reopen their borders and trying to draw up rules for a highly unusual summer tourist season.
“This vacation this year won't be like the ones we know from the past,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told ZDF television. “The pandemic is still there, and we must at least have safety precautions for the worst case that the figures get worse again.”
Churches in Italy and at the Vatican resumed public Masses. Guards in hazmat suits took the temperatures of the faithful entering St. Peter's Basilica, where Pope Francis celebrated a Mass in a side chapel to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. John Paul II.
In France, authorities were concerned after about 70 infections popped up in the country's schools since they started reopening last week. France reopened about 40,000 preschools and primary schools last week, with classes capped at 15 students.