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Boeing to suspend production in Puget Sound area amid coronavirus outbreak

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SEATTLE -- Boeing said Monday it would suspend production operations at its Puget Sound area facilities for at least 14 days amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The company planned to begin reducing production starting immediately, with the suspension of operations across the area beginning Wednesday, March 25.

"The suspension of production operations will last 14 days, during which Boeing will continue to monitor government guidance and actions on COVID-19 and its associated impacts on all company operations," company officials wrote in a news release. "During this time, we will be conducting additional deep cleaning activities at impacted sites and establishing rigorous criteria for return to work."

At least 95 people have died in Washington state because of COVID-19, most in the Seattle area. Nearly 2,000 cases had been confirmed in the state by Sunday.

Production employees are asked to report to their normal assignment on Monday to be given more information about the suspension process.

"This necessary step protects our employees and the communities where they work and live," said Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun. "We continue to work closely with public health officials, and we're in contact with our customers, suppliers and other stakeholders who are affected by this temporary suspension. We regret the difficulty this will cause them, as well as our employees, but it's vital to maintain health and safety for all those who support our products and services, and to assist in the national effort to combat the spread of COVID-19," said Calhoun.

Production is continuing at a Boeing plant in South Carolina where Boeing 787 jetliners are assembled.

According to a news release, Boeing employees who can work from home will continue to do so. Employees who can't work remotely will get paid leave for the first ten days of the suspension.

"We will keep our employees, customers and supply chain top of mind as we continue to assess the evolving situation," Calhoun said. "This is an unprecedented time for organizations and communities across the globe."

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Boeing employees worried at work

Boeing employees in the region had been speaking out, saying they were increasingly worried about the spread of COVID-19 as more coworkers tested positive for the virus.

Last week, Boeing said 18 employees had tested positive for COVID-19 in the Puget Sound region and about 1,000 more were under company or public health directed quarantine. The number of cases at Boeing has increased since then, with 25 of the company's 32 confirmed cases in western Washington. Boeing has more than 70,000 employees in the region.

One Boeing employee who worked at the Everett plant has died, marking the first death among the Boeing employees who have tested positive, according to The Seattle Times.

The machinists’ union said it supported the decision to suspend production, according to a message on its website. Boeing said it was still trying to confirm the employee’s death.

Boeing operates two commercial aviation production facilities in the Seattle area, one in Everett and another in Renton. Its Everett facility, north of Seattle, is the largest building in the world and produces airplanes like the 777s, 787s, 767s and 747s– along with the KC-46A military refueling and transport plane. About 30,000 people work there.

Its plant in Renton, south of Seattle, produces the 737 line and military P-8s. About 12,000 work there.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee applauded Boeing’s decision. “Now is a time for bold actions like these,” he said in a statement.

Prior to the announcement, many Boeing employees reached out to Q13 News concerned, angry and confused about conditions at the workplace. Others signed an online petition calling on Boeing to close its plants for the sake of community health.

Employees said they work too closely to each other in Everett to practice social distancing of six feet. They also complained about a lack of personal protective equipment, or PPE, and even hand sanitizer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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