General Motors, Stellantis, and Ford Motor Co. collectively decided to reinstate masking mandates in Michigan over the weekend — stating that the impacted factories were in areas with high levels of COVID-19.
The automakers had lifted mask requirements for employees after the backlash against government-backed restrictions and mandates hit a fever pitch in March. While protests had begun swelling by the fall of last year, the Canadian Freedom Convoy that was forcibility disbanded in February drew national attention to the issue. Despite Detroit manufacturers suggesting they would walk back restrictions (if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was okay) for months, ditching masks initially involved a series of stipulations about vaccinations and job titles. It wasn’t until public outrage spilled over into the real world that sweeping changes began to occur.
To be fair, infections had also declined between January and March of 2021. But previous dips in infection rate had gone largely ignored in terms of adjusting protocols and the uptick we’ve seen in May has been relatively modest thus far. Recent hospitalization rates have also stayed low with admissions to the intensive care unit (ICU) being the lowest since the pandemic officially began early in 2020. This is according to the CDC’s own data as of May 16th, 2022.
However, Detroit’s trio has maintained that they’ll do basically whatever the CDC tells them and the national health agency recently listed six of the most populous counties in the State of Michigan as having higher than average infection rates and has recommended wearing masks indoors and in public settings.
According to Reuters, the relevant facilities will require all persons (regardless of their vaccination status) to be masked upon entering. On Sunday, the United Auto Workers (UAW) stated that if any facility under its control “is located in high-risk counties as identified by the CDC, they will require masking and physical distancing.”
Ford said it was temporarily reinstating a face mask requirement at all of its plants located in areas deemed high-risk by the CDC.
Stellantis said that starting on Monday, “company-issued face masks will again be required for employees, contractors and visitors at all Stellantis facilities” in those Michigan counties. The company added, “it is expected that the requirement will be in place for the next two weeks.”
GM said it “will be implementing COVID protection measures at our facilities in Oakland, Wayne, Livingston and Macomb counties given the CDC has now listed them as high risk.”
One wonders how this will play out in the coming weeks. The tolerance for lockdown measures doesn’t seem to have improved and we’ve seen how stringent health protocols can absolutely obliterate productivity. China is presently instituting some of the most aggressive COVID-19 restrictions on the planet and has been attributed as one of the leading causes of shortages that are only anticipated to worsen through the summer. Granted, masking is not the same as forcibly keeping people locked indoors and/or sleeping on factory floors.
But there’s a very real possibility that the resulting backlash to mandates could result in a lapse in productivity stateside. Output has remained strained worldwide since 2020, leading one to assume that enhanced health and safety measures could be counterproductive in terms of industrial fruitfulness. This is especially true if they end up encouraging protests or (less likely due to the UAW position in Michigan) a worker’s strike. Automakers are likely weighing that against an assumed number of employees that might be out sick if masking were not reinstated and upsetting the federal government.
The industry has suggested the returning mandates should only last about two weeks, which is roughly how long the CDC said national health restrictions would be in place during the onset of the pandemic.
[Image: Miljan Zivkovic/Shutterstock]
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