Companywide, Boeing reports 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19

Boeing will equip more employees to work remotely, but for now factory workers will stay on the line.

EVERETT — With 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across its global operations, the Boeing Co. plans to redouble efforts to equip more employees to work at home.

Nine of the confirmed cases are among Boeing employees in the Puget Sound region, Boeing spokesman Jessica Kowal told The Daily Herald.

The Chicago-based company issued new company-wide guidelines on Monday requiring managers to immediately identify employees who can work remotely and to make scheduling changes by the end of Tuesday. That includes outfitting them with company-issued laptops and other equipment to work at home, according to an email sent Monday to all Boeing employees.

Company wide, Boeing has 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 339 employees under quarantine for suspected exposure. Another 87 workers have been released from quarantine and have returned to work, the company email said. Boeing employs more than 160,000 worldwide and 72,000 in Washington.

Those stepped-up efforts don’t apply to workers whose jobs require they turn a wrench or inspect aircraft or production work. Those who are unable to work at home due to the nature of their jobs “should continue to work on-site until further notice,” the email said.

The Everett campus at Paine Field, which operates three shifts, employs more than 35,000 workers in the factory, engineering offices, delivery center and other buildings. The main plant houses the assembly lines for the 747, 767, KC-46 tanker, 787 and 777.

Boeing already has taken steps to limit the virus’ spread, including cutting nonessential travel and face-to-face meetings. Employees are urged to maintain a six-foot distance from co-workers, the company has said.

“We know that people are very concerned about their health and safety, (and) we have a process to assess risk if an employee reports flu-like symptoms,” Kowal said.

Similar measures are being taken at Boeing’s 787 assembly plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, where it employs about 7,000.

COVID-19 is vexing not only to airplane builders but the entire manufacturing sector, which depends on hands-on labor to build and package goods. Manufacturers are struggling with how — and whether — to keep production lines running as the virus advances.

The airline industry, in particular, is in dire straits, analysts say.

The Centre for Aviation, an Australian trade and research group, estimated that “by the end of May, most airlines in the world will be bankrupt.” The group called for “coordinated government and industry action … if catastrophe is to be avoided.”

Domestic and international airlines have canceled flights or suspended operations due to travel bans and a scarcity of passengers.

On Monday, the U.S. airline industry called for a $50 billion government bailout, according to Airlines for America, a trade group that represents carriers.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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