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Ford Plant Workers Sound Alarm About COVID-19; Expert Calls For Paid Sick Leave

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's about more than just masks and hand sanitizer – on Tuesday night, one health expert told us what's needed to keep people safe from the novel coronavirus as they return to work.

Meanwhile, workers at the Ford Chicago Assembly Plant at 126th Street and Torrence Avenue were sounding the alarm a week after reopening.

CBS 2's Charlie De Mar caught up with employees at shift change at the Ford plant. The plant is in its second week of being reopened after closing for the coronavirus pandemic.

"Making money now - had to wait two weeks," one employee said.

"It's the same like when we left – there's nothing different," said Ford employee Mike Sandifer.

"They should have shut down last week when people tested positive," said Ford employee Mike Hopper.

Last week, at least two Ford employees tested positive for COVID-19, bringing operations to a sudden halt - but not a complete shutdown.

"They came in with it," Hopper said. "It's not like they caught it in there."

Several employees who came into contact with the sick worker were forced to leave and enter a 14-day quarantine.

"I think we came back a little too soon, but who am I to say that?" said Ford employee Matt Reeves.

But Hopper said categorically that the plant did reopen too soon.

"I think the biggest barrier is paid sick leave," said Dr. Linda Forst, a professor and senior associate dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.

Forst is concerned that without guaranteed paid sick leave, coronavirus cases are likely to continue to pop up at a variety of work places as the economy starts up again.

"If they are not paid while they are staying at home, they aren't going to stay at home. They are going to lie and come to work," Forst said, "and I think that's on the employers or the federal government to figure out how to deal with it."

And that poses a potential risk for even more coronavirus cases.

"I'm worried about my fellow co-workers, but I mean, we all need to survive; all need to work, so not much you can do about it," Reeves said.

"As Americans, we have to get through this, but a lot of people aren't practicing social distancing," Hopper said.

"I think employment protections as well as PPE and conditions at work is what going to solve this problem," Forst added.

We have heard from a number of employees who didn't want to go on camera who say they know of several more cases that have popped up at the plant.

Ford did not return our requests for updated COVID-19 numbers.

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