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Daily COVID-19 Updates: March 31

March 31, 2020
J&J Fast-Tracks Candidate Vaccine; DPA Offers Manufacturing Opportunities; Manufacturing Survey Reveals Top HR Concerns

Two weeks ago, the “big three” Detroit automakers—Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors, and Ford Motors—agreed, after haggling with the UAW, to close their production facilities for two weeks—through March 30, pending future developments. Many smaller manufacturers and suppliers (some of them facing state or local orders to suspend production), followed suit.

It’s now clear that the March 30 date for re-opening production was overoptimistic, especially given that Ford today walked back an announcement made last week that they would reopen their U.S. factories for the week of April 20. One Ford factory, Rawsonville Components Plant, will open for work the week of April 20 in order to produce Model A-E ventilators, a simplified ventilator designed in partnership with GE Healthcare.

At press time, Ford has not provided any new dates on which it expects to re-open domestic production. Meanwhile today, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. all issued shelter-in-place orders directing their employees to avoid noncritical travel. According to the New York Times, the only remaining states without local or statewide stay-at-home orders are Arkansas, Nevada, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Johnson & Johnson Sprints for a Vaccine

Johnson & Johnson made two big announcements today. First, the company says their pharmaceutical department Janssen has produced a candidate COVID-19 vaccine it will send for Phase 1 clinical testing before September of this year. Second, BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority of the Department of Health and Human services, agreed to help fund half of the $1 billion price tag to fast-track industrial production of the vaccine.

According to J&J’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Paul Stoffels, the fast-tracked vaccine could receive an emergency use authorization as early as January 2021. A 12-month turnaround from vaccine research & development to deployment would be—like so much else about the current outbreak and its effects—unprecedented. Read the full story here.

New Workforce Norms & Concerns

When production resumes at factories and the crisis passes, will the industry look the same as it did before? Members of the AI industry think that the post-COVID-19 industry is prime for revolution in how manufacturers leverage technology and robotics. Ran Poliakine, founder and chairman of SixAI, believes that the supply chain- and workforce-disrupting effects of the coronavirus outbreak will induce a “new normal” for manufacturers, one where robots improve worker safety and efficiency. Read the full story here.

A survey released March 31 revealed that a top concern for 89% of 900 North American employers was whether or not to pay absent employees during the COVID-19 outbreak. The flash survey also revealed different means used by employers to mitigate the crisis, including adjusted sick-leave policies and additional time off. Read the full story here.

It’s not news that manufacturing has struggled to attract and retain new workers as skilled older workers age out of the system. Now, spiking unemployment across the country as the result of the coronavirus might make it hard—or impossible—for older workers to re-enter the workforce on their own terms. Read the full story here.

What the DPA Is and How to Use It

Last week, President Trump authorized the use of the Defense Production Act to compel manufacturers to produce equipment deemed necessary for the national defense against coronavirus. On March 27, he used the order to officially order General Motors to produce ventilators in its partnership with Ventec. But what is the Korean-War-era Act, and what does it mean for manufacturers other than GM?

As Senior Project Manager at IFS Matt Medly explains it, the DPA presents an opportunity for manufacturers to receive priority orders from the government, and incentives for filling them rapidly. Read the full story here.

Meanwhile, GM, in addition to its Ventec partnership, announced today that it had finished constructing a fabric face mask production line in its Warren, Michigan. According to GM, the project will be able to deliver more than 20,000 masks before April 8, followed by a full-speed production rate of 50,000 masks a day.

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