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Some US manufacturers reopening amid fierce political heat

/ 07:11 AM April 21, 2020

SEATTLE  — Boeing and at least one other U.S. heavy-equipment manufacturer resumed production and some states rolled out aggressive reopening plans Monday, despite nationwide concerns there is not enough testing yet to keep the coronavirus from rebounding.

A masked worker departs a gate at a Boeing production plant Monday, April 20, 2020, in Renton, Wash. Boeing this week is restarting production of commercial airplanes in the Seattle area, putting about 27,000 people back to work after operations were halted because of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Boeing said it was putting about 27,000 people back to work this week building passenger jets at its Seattle-area plants, with virus-slowing precautions in place, including face masks and staggered shifts.

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Doosan Bobcat, a farm equipment maker and North Dakota’s largest manufacturer, announced the return of about 2,200 workers at three factories around the state.

Elsewhere around the world, step-by-step reopenings were underway in Europe, where the crisis has begun to ebb in places such as Italy, Spain and Germany.

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Parts of the continent are perhaps weeks ahead of the U.S. on the infection curve of the virus, which has killed around 170,000 people worldwide, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The reopenings in the U.S. are a drop in the bucket compared with the more than 22 million Americans thrown out of work by the crisis.

In a dispute that has turned nakedly political, the president has been agitating to restart the economy, singling out Democratic-led states and egging on protesters who feel governors are moving too slowly.

Some states — mostly Republican-led ones — have relaxed restrictions, and on Monday announced that they would take further steps to reopen their economies.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced that gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors were among businesses that could reopen Friday — as long as owners followed strict social distancing and hygiene requirements.

He said that as of next Monday, movie theaters could resume selling tickets and restaurants limited to takeout orders could go back to limited dine-in service.

Texas on Monday began a week of slow reopenings, starting off with state parks, while officials said that later in the week, stores would be allowed to offer curbside service.

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that businesses across most of the state would begin reopening as early as next week. Both states are also led by Republicans.

But governors from many other states say they lack the testing supplies they need and warn they could get hit by a second wave of infections, given how people with no symptoms can still spread the disease.

“Who in this great state actually believes that they care more about jet skiing than saving the lives of the elderly or the vulnerable?” Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer remarked, referring to restrictions in place in her state. “This action isn’t about our individual right to gather. It’s about our parents’ right to live.”

Trump took to Twitter to complain that the “radical left” and “Do Nothing Democrats” are “playing a very dangerous political game” by complaining about a testing shortage. At the same time, Vice President Mike Pence told governors that Washington is working around-the-clock to help them ramp up testing.

The death toll in the U.S. stood at more than 40,000 — the highest in the world — with over 750,000 confirmed infections, by Johns Hopkins’ count. The true figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of limited testing and difficulties in counting the dead.

In other developments:
— Massachusetts has emerged as an alarming hot spot of contagion, with over 1,700 dead and officials hoping to bend the curve through aggressive contract tracing.

— New York, with the worst outbreak in the nation, reported that hospitalizations in the state have leveled off and the day’s death toll, at 478, was the lowest in three weeks, down from a peak of nearly 800. Still, the city canceled three of its biggest June events: the Puerto Rican Day parade, the Israel parade and the gay pride march.

— A meatpacking plant in Minnesota was shut down after an outbreak there. But Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds refused to order the closing of any slaughterhouses in her state that are seeing alarming increases in COVID-19, saying: “Without them, people’s lives and our food supply will be impacted.”

Mobilized by the far right, many Americans have taken to the streets in places such as Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, complaining that the shutdowns are destroying their livelihoods and trampling their rights.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, warned on ABC: “Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen.”

Boeing’s shutdown went into effect March 25 after workers tested positive for the virus and an inspector for the company died. Washington was the first state to see a spike in COVID-19 cases and enacted strict shutdown orders that helped tamp the virus down.

The crisis has exacerbated problems at Boeing, which is in dire financial trouble and under federal investigation over two crashes of its 737 MAX jetliner that killed 346 people.

 GSG

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