Tesla’s California plant stays open despite coronavirus closure order

Tesla appears intent on keeping its only U.S. auto factory open despite the recent so-called “shelter in place” orders announced by the authorities for seven counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. The measure, which came into force on Tuesday, is part of growing lockdown efforts aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19.

Tesla’s factory is located in Fremont, Alameda County, which falls inside one of the locations covered by the shelter-in-place order. But reports suggest it operated as usual on Tuesday, with Tesla CEO Elon Musk even telling its 10,000 employees that he would “personally be at work.”

The order, which places restrictions on the operations of “non-essential businesses” as well as on daily life, lasts for three weeks and comes just days after Tesla began the very first deliveries of its brand new Model Y electric crossover.

Businesses providing what are considered to be essential services — think pharmacies, banks, gas stations, and the like — are allowed to stay open. Unsurprisingly, the office of the Alameda County Sheriff doesn’t consider car manufacturing as a vital community service, though the people who depend on it for an income might argue differently.

Responding to inquiries about whether Tesla would be allowed to continue operating as usual over the next three weeks, the Alameda County Sheriff tweeted: “Tesla is not an essential business as defined in the Alameda County Health Order,” but added that it would be able to “maintain minimum basic operations per the Alameda County Health Order.”

Minimum basic operations include “the minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of the business’s inventory, ensure security, process payroll, and employee benefits, or for related functions,” as well as “the minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees of the business being able to continue to work remotely from their residences.”

A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office told Reuters that Tesla would violate the California health and safety code if it continued to operate, though it didn’t say what enforcement measures it might take.

Responding to the shelter-in-place order, Musk told workers in an email seen by the LA Times: “I’d like to be super clear that if you feel the slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable, please do not feel obligated to come to work. I will personally be at work, but that’s just me. Totally OK if you want to stay home for any reason.”

Musk said that to his knowledge, no Tesla worker had so far tested positive for COVID-19 adding: “My frank opinion is that the harm from the coronavirus panic far exceeds that of the virus itself.” He ended the message with: “I’d rather you were at home and not stressed, than at work and worried.”

Whether Tesla’s factory continues to operate over the entirety of the next three weeks remains to be seen. We’ve reached out to the company for an update on its plans will update this piece when we hear back.

Tesla was forced to temporarily close its car factory in Shanghai, China, in late January as part of nationwide efforts to contain the outbreak there.

Also in January, Tesla said it expected to “comfortably exceed” 500,000 deliveries in 2020, but the arrival of COVID-19 may scupper that particular goal.

Bay Area counties had 367 reported COVID-19 infections as of Tuesday, March 17, with 6 reported deaths.

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