Tesla told to shut down California factory to help fight the coronavirus

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Tesla is not exempt from the San Francisco Bay Area’s new coronavirus shelter-in-place order, and should suspend normal operations at its Fremont, California factory for three weeks, according to county officials and the local sheriff’s office. This comes after Tesla kept its factory open and running today, the first day that the new order was in place.

The shelter-in-place order was announced yesterday by the leaders of six counties in the Bay Area as part of a collective effort to slow the spread of the virus. Citizens were asked not to leave their homes except for “essential activities” like buying food, and “nonessential businesses” were ordered to shut down.

Tesla’s human resources head Valerie Workman reportedly told employees in an email that she believed Tesla would be considered an “essential business” and therefore would be exempt from the order to close. Tesla’s automotive manufacturing businesses did not appear to directly fit the language of an “essential business” in the text of the order, but Workman told employees that the Department of Homeland Security considers it to be “National Critical Infrastructure.”

“People need access to transportation and energy, and we are essential to providing it,” she reportedly wrote in the email, adding that Tesla has “been in close communication with the State of California, Alameda County, and the City of Fremont, regarding the federal government’s guidance.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has underplayed the pandemic in emails to his various companies. He said in one that he thinks the risk of dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, “is *vastly* less than the risk of death from driving your car home,” adding that there are “about 36 thousand automotive deaths per [year], as compared to 36 so far this year for C19.” (Since then, that number has more than doubled in the US.) He also said his “frank opinion remains that the harm from the coronavirus panic far exceeds that of the virus itself.”

Musk did tell employees that they can stay home if they feel ill or uncomfortable, but it’s unclear if the company is offering paid leave to those workers.

Tesla has not responded to multiple emails, texts, and phone calls about the state of its Fremont factory, where the Model 3, Model S, Model X, and now the Model Y are assembled. The California Governor’s office, the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, the Alameda County Sheriff’s office, and the City of Fremont did not respond to requests for comment.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office tweeted late Tuesday that Tesla is “not an essential business as defined in the Alameda County Health Order,” and said “Tesla can maintain minimum basic operations” per the order.

“Minimum Basic Operations” are defined by the order as “[t]he minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of the business’s inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions,” and “[t]he minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees of the business being able to continue to work remotely from their residences.”

Other US automakers have yet to shut down their manufacturing facilities, though they are not located in the Bay Area, which was the first place to impose such strict lockdown guidelines as part of the fight to stop the pandemic. However, those automakers are facing increasing pressure from the United Auto Workers union and others to pause operations.

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