Elon Musk underplays coronavirus threat, tells employees that car crashes are more dangerous

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Elon Musk sent a memo to SpaceX employees on Friday underplaying the dangers of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, which is now considered a pandemic, according to a report from BuzzFeed News.

Musk’s email, sent earlier today, told employees of the space transport company that they were far more likely to die from a car crash than COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He also said that, based on the evidence he had seen about COVID-19, he doesn’t think it’s “within the top 100 health risks in the United States.” The email follows a tweet Musk sent last week saying “the coronavirus panic is dumb.” SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musk’s views on the novel coronavirus pandemic are contradicted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the latter of which declared the coronavirus a pandemic earlier this week. As BuzzFeed notes, car crashes are also not a viral infection that can spread exponentially, and health experts quoted in the report say Musk’s comments are both disingenuous and dangerous.

Health officials estimate that, in a worst-case scenario, between 160 million and 214 million Americans may become infected with COVID-19 if the disease is not adequately contained in the coming weeks and months, The New York Times reports. Of those infected, as many as 1.7 million may die.

Additionally, tens of millions of people may require hospitalization to treat COVID-19, a situation that may overwhelm the nation’s health care and medical treatment systems. Right now, the CDC says there are 1,629 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 41 deaths in the US. But due to a lack of testing, the number of cases in the US is likely to be far higher.

Musk’s statements regarding COVID-19 come at a time when the auto industry, like many other sectors of the US economy, has begun restricting operations to help reduce the spread of the virus. Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler have all started instructing non-factory employees in the US to work from home, and automakers are considering the possibility of factory shutdowns in the future as the virus continues to spread and Chinese supply chain disruptions further complicate vehicle production.

Tesla, Musk’s other company, did not respond to a request for comment regarding its remote work policies in response to the pandemic. But according to a leaked memo obtained by Business Insider, Tesla did tell employees to self-quarantine if they recently returned from travel to Italy, China, South Korea, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore, or Thailand.

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