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Ford factory employees work in close proximity, touching many of the same surfaces. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Pressure is building on automakers to halt U.S. production as hourly employees grow more anxious about their risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Factory workers can't work from home, and on a vehicle assembly line, they work in close proximity, touching the same surfaces and sharing tools many times a day. Manufacturing workers in other industries face similar issues.

What's happening: Across Europe, automakers have been shutting plants in order to cope with parts shortages, falling car sales or worker safety. Experts say it's a sign of what's to come in the U.S.

  • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Monday suspended production at most of its European facilities, including six in Italy and one each in Serbia and Poland.
  • Ford closed a plant in Spain after three workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • VW and Audi also throttled back production in Europe, Reuters reports, as did Ferrari, Lamborghini and premium brakes maker Brembo.

In the U.S., VW's Chattanooga plant was closed Monday for a deep cleaning, reports Automotive News.

  • An FCA worker at a Kokomo, Indiana, plant tested positive for the coronavirus last week, and those who worked nearby or may have come in contact with him have been told to stay home.

What to watch: So far, U.S. factories are still operating, but the situation is fluid and stakeholder discussions are underway.

  • GM, Ford, and FCA formed a coronavirus task force with the UAW union to implement ways to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Steps include enhanced visitor screening, increased cleaning and sanitizing of common areas and touch points, and safety protocols for people who are sick or have been exposed to the illness.
  • In some cases, companies are slowing assembly lines to allow more social distancing for workers.
  • They're also staggering break times to reduce exposure in lunchrooms and other common areas.

Yes, but: Union leaders are sounding the alarm that it's not enough.

  • A Ford union leader in Kentucky asked the company to close the plant for two weeks as a precaution.
  • Workers at a minivan plant in Windsor, Ontario, just across the border from Detroit, temporarily walked off the job one day last week over fears that a co-worker had been exposed.

The bottom line: The auto industry is a major cog in the U.S. economy, accounting for 2.8% of GDP. Any interruption only adds to the country's economic pain.

  • But people who are hunkered down and worried about job security aren't going to be buying cars anyway.
  • That could make factory closings inevitable.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Shooting at Michigan high school leaves 3 dead, 8 wounded

Police cars restrict access to Oxford High School following the shooting in Oxford, Michigan, on Tuesday. Photo: Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

A 15-year-old sophomore was arrested after a shooting at a Michigan high school that left three people dead and eight others wounded Wednesday, according to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office.

The latest: Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said at a briefing Tuesday night that the suspect's father had on Friday bought the 9mm Sig Sauer pistol investigators believe was used in the shooting at Oxford High School. Authorities released the names of the victims late Tuesday.

City Council member Andre Dickens wins Atlanta mayoral race

Atlanta Mayor-elect Andre Dickens in Atlanta, Georgia, late Tuesday. Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

City Council member Andre Dickens won a runoff election Tuesday to become Atlanta's next mayor, soundly beating the council's president Felicia Moore.

The big picture: Dickens was just a few months ago considered to have an outside chance of replacing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who announced in May that she wouldn't seek a second term.

UN report: Pandemic set to cost global tourism $2 trillion in 2021

A tourist in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Nov. 25. Photo:Chesnot/Getty Images

A new United Nations report warns that global tourism will see only modest revenue gains in 2021 after last year's historic losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: Tourism revenues in 2020 fell by more than half from the previous year — a significant blow to the global economy, according to analysis by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).