President Trump said American businesses are actively stepping to help combat the coronavirus by changing their factories over to making goods and equipment needed by health care workers.
On Friday, President Donald Trump announced that he invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, which allows the government to marshal the private sector to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. But on Saturday, Trump said he has not had to use those powers because so many companies are voluntarily repurposing their facilities.
“We have so many companies making so many products,” Trump said. “We have the act to use in case we need it, but we have so many things being made right now by so many — they’ve just stepped up.”
Mr. Trump said that Hanes is converting manufacturing capabilities to produce protective masks. Distilleries are switching from making alcoholic drinks like whiskey to making sanitizers and disinfectants. Automakers, including General Motors, are retrofitting plants to make ventilators.
All are answering the call of duty amid a pandemic that has so far claimed more than 11,000 lives and sickened 260,000 people globally.
Redirecting plants to make completely different products take a huge effort — but companies are moving much faster than was previously thought possible..
At a news conference earlier this week, Trump singled out GM — which in 1952 designed and built what the company says was the first mechanical pump used in heart surgery — as one of many businesses that have asked to start making medical gear.
“We are literally being besieged in a beautiful way by companies that wanted to do the work,” he said. “They want to help our country.”
GM announced on Friday that it is working with ventilator maker Ventec Life Systems to ramp up production. The automaker said it would help with logistics, purchasing and manufacturing, but stopped short of saying it would make ventilators in its own factories, which have been idled for two weeks after workers who’d been fearful of contagion put pressure on the company.
Crosstown rival Ford, which also suspended factory production along with other automakers with operations in North America, confirmed that it too was in discussions with the Trump administration about helping.
“We’re looking at feasibility,” Ford spokesman T.R. Reid said. “It may be possible, but it’s not you go from Rangers (small pickups) one day to ventilators the next. We’re figuring out what is possible now.”
Ford and Rolls-Royce PLC also are working with the British government to see if they can switch over their factories.
“We are keen to do whatever we can to help the government and the country at this time and will look to provide any practical help we can,” Rolls-Royce said in a statement.
Rum producer Bacardi, for example, said its distillery in Puerto Rico has shifted to making ethanol needed to produce hand sanitizer. Small U.S. distilleries such as Eight Oaks Farm in Pennsylvania are converting operations to make alcohol-based disinfectant. It will charge whatever people want to donate.
Germany-based Beiersdorf, known for skin care products such as the Nivea and Coppertone brands, and Luxury giant LVMH are preparing to make medical disinfectants in Europe for hospitals, police and firefighters. French cosmetics giant L’Oreal says it is making sanitizer gel.
Electronics maker Sharp Corp. said it will start making surgical masks using a plant in central Japan that usually makes displays. And Michigan-based office furniture company Steelcase is exploring ways to use its factories to make health care items, studying whether it can make masks and protective equipment or partitions for hospitals.
“This is an extraordinary crisis that necessitates extraordinary measures and actions from both the public and private sectors,” the company said in a statement.
–The Associated Press contributed to this report.