In May 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk defiantly reopened a factory in Fremont, California against a county-wide shutdown order. Almost one year later, public health data shows hundreds of workers there contracted Covid-19.
According to a chart obtained by the website PlainSite, about 450 Covid cases at the factory were reported to the Alameda County Department of Public Health between May and December 2020. In December alone, there were 125 cases.
Tesla had reassured its employees about a month after the reopening that the virus was not circulating at the factory.
“Since we restarted operations, we have had zero COVID-19 workplace transmissions,” Laurie Shelby, the company’s top safety officer, wrote in a company email in June.
That month, according to the new data, the factory reported 19 cases. The month before that, the chart says somewhat cryptically, there had been “<11.”
The Washington Post revealed the existence of infections in June, but the Alameda health department refused to release the numbers for over a year, citing privacy laws around health records.
Tesla and the health department have not yet responded to The Independent’s requests for comment.
The Fremont saga began on May 11, 2020, when Mr Musk dramatically announced on Twitter that he was reopening the factory, in spite of a county-wide shutdown due to the coronavirus.
“Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules,” the CEO tweeted. “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”
At the time, the United States was enduring the pandemic’s deadly first wave. Mr Musk had been railing against Covid-related shutdowns and stay-at-home orders for weeks, calling them “fascist” during a call with investors.
“FREE AMERICA NOW,” he tweeted on April 29.
Meanwhile, Mr Musk repeatedly tweeted out articles and charts that appeared to cast doubt on the severity of the pandemic.
In addition to the reopening, Tesla also sued Alameda County over the shutdown, arguing that it contradicted an earlier order from California Governor Gavin Newsom. The county eventually relented and allowed the Fremont factory to resume work.
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