Some US producers, states reopening amid political pressure

Coronavirus

Boeing said it was putting about 27,000 people back to work this week

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)

SEATTLE (AP) — 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.

The reopenings came amid economic gloom, as futures plunged below zero on Monday and stocks and Treasury yields also dropped on Wall Street. The cost to have a barrel of U.S. crude delivered in May plummeted to negative $37.63. It was at roughly $60 at the start of the year.

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

Businesses that start operating again in the U.S. are likely to engender good will with the Trump administration at a time when it is doling out billions in relief to companies. But the reopenings being announced 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, President Donald Trump 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.

The governor said a decline in emergency room visits by people with flu-like symptoms indicated that infections were going down. But he also acknowledged that Georgia had lagged in COVID-19 testing and announced new initiatives to ramp it up.

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. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that businesses across most of the state would begin reopening as early as next week, although the order did not cover counties with the largest cities, including Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga. Both states are led by Republicans.

Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Monday that he would allow hospitals to begin performing elective procedures if the facilities met an unspecified set of criteria, while Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Monday that he would let his statewide stay-at-home order expire next week as long as strict social distancing and other individual protective measures continued.

But governors from many other states said they lacked the testing supplies they need and warned 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.

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