The partial reopening of the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus outbreak includes automaker Ford (F), which on Monday began operation of factories with new safety measures like socially distanced workstations and temperature screenings.
But a forthcoming protection may prove most important: testing.
Jim Hackett, the president and CEO of Ford, told Yahoo Finance that the company will “likely” conduct daily coronavirus testing of employees at its auto factories when the technology becomes available.
“Testing right now isn’t reliable enough that we would test people every day,” Hackett says. “But we believe that will be coming soon — and that’s likely to be in the protocols.”
To reopen plants, Ford stocked facilities with disinfectant and protective equipment, and it plans to institute daily and weekly cleanings, as well as daily COVID-19 surveys that require workers to confirm the absence of symptoms before gaining entry to a factory, according to a guidebook released by the automaker.
“We created a series of devices — both face shields and masks — as well as proximity warning devices that we’re trying in a couple factories,” Hackett says. “And a whole screening process.”
“Testing is soon to follow,” he adds.
Ford joins other high-profile U.S. companies that aim to test their employees for the virus. Last month, Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the company plans to eventually test all employees, whether or not they display symptoms. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have explored testing options as part of their efforts to put on games.
Hackett said the reopening of the U.S. economy should prioritize workplace safety but warned that a prolonged economic shutdown could cause more damage than the virus.
“There are two truths here and they’re in competition,” says Hackett. “It’s one of the biggest paradoxes.”
“One is we’ve got to have safe work environments, and the other is if we keep the economy turned off we’re going to have a fate worse than some of the things that the virus is causing,” he says. “So what you’ve got to do is ameliorate the conflict.”
Hackett made the remarks to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Before he joined Ford three years ago, Hackett served as the interim director of athletics at the University of Michigan, his alma mater, where he hired highly sought after head coach Jim Harbaugh. For two decades before that, he served as the CEO of Grand Rapids-based office furniture company Steelcase, gaining a reputation as a turnaround specialist.
Competitors General Motors (GM) and Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) also reportedly plan to reopen U.S. facilities in the coming weeks. Last week, Democratic Michigan Gov. Whitmer announced that automakers could reopen manufacturing on May 11 but extended the state’s stay-at-home order to May 28.
Ford shuttered its North American plants on March 19. In the first quarter of 2020, the automaker’s revenue fell 14.9% to $34.3 billion, the company announced last month. It forecasted adjusted pre tax losses of $5 billion for the second quarter. Ford shares are down 47% so far this year, while the S&P 500 index is down around 11%.
Hackett says Ford has developed plans for addressing workers who show a high temperature in screenings, pointing to lessons learned from some factories in Europe that reopened on May 4.
“We sent people home that have temperatures, and just have the cold and didn’t have the virus,” Hackett says.
“But then if they have the virus, of course they go into the quarantine protocol and the contact tracing.”