Tesla’s Fremont electric vehicle assembly plant, which employs about 10,000 workers, will remain open despite the “shelter in place” lockdown issued by six Bay Area counties on Monday.
Alameda County has declared Tesla an “essential business” that is allowed to remain in operation, according to a county spokesman.
What’s essential about automobile manufacturing in the midst of a viral pandemic? “That’s a good question,” said spokesman Ray Kelly, promising more information would be forthcoming. “We’re in uncharted waters right now.”
Operations will continue, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk told employees in a Monday night email. “If you feel the slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable, please do not feel obligated to come to work,” he said.
Several Tesla employees sent copies of the email to The Times. Tesla did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Requests for information from Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who represents the Fremont district, went unanswered.
“I’m going in on [when my next shift starts] Thursday unless anything changes,” one employee emailed The Times. “Don’t want to risk losing my job. But the main thing I am worried about is getting it and bringing it home to my senior parents 67 and 74 one of which has emphysema. But what [am] I supposed to do??”
Musk minimized what he called the “panic” surrounding the new coronavirus.
“My frank opinion is that the harm from the coronavirus panic far exceeds that of the virus itself,” he wrote. He said that COVID-19 cases “will not exceed 0.1% of the population.”
“I will personally be at work, but that’s just me,” he wrote, and ended the email with “I’d rather you were at home and not stressed, than at work and worried.”
Six Bay Area counties Monday issued a “shelter at home” order that effectively shuts down most business activity, except for a long list of “essential businesses.” Alameda County is home to the Fremont plant. Other counties include San Francisco and Santa Clara, the heart of Silicon Valley.
According to the Alameda County Public Health Department, businesses allowed to operate under the three-week order “include healthcare operations; businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals; fresh and non-perishable food retailers (including convenience stores); pharmacies; child care facilities; gas stations; banks; laundry businesses and services necessary for maintaining the safety, sanitation and essential operation of a residence.”
The order from the six counties also exempts “gas stations and auto-supply, auto-repair, and related facilities.”
Musk said to his knowledge no one at Tesla has tested positive for COVID-19. The Alameda health department said Monday that 258 cases with four deaths have occurred in the six counties, “more than half of California’s case count.”
Although Renault and Fiat Chrysler are closing some plants in Europe, no large automaker has announced a factory shutdown in the U.S.