Elon Musk and how not to handle public health concerns

The Tesla CEO has reopened his factory in California, against county COVID rules.

by Natasha Abramson
Last Updated: 13 May 2020

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has defied California’s coronavirus restrictions, which require only essential businesses to operate, to open his only US-based plant in Fremont, Alameda County. 

He announced to his 32.5m Twitter followers that “Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2020

On Saturday, Tesla sued Alameda County, alleging that the local public health order violated the US Constitution and an earlier executive order from the state governor.

Musk also threatened to move its headquarters and any future work out of the state with no manufacturing to continue in Fremont at all. As yet, there has been no concrete response from the authorities, according to The Guardian

The billionaire has been vocal on Twitter for weeks in his arguments against COVID-19 as a serious threat, saying “coronavirus pandemic is dumb” and sharing false information about the scale of the outbreak in the USA. 

While Musk did receive support from President Trump, his attempt to win people over has not gone down too well with local hospitals, which said the ventilators they received from Tesla to make up their shortfall were not up to specifications.

In general, Musk has not had a great crisis PR wise, and taking decisions against public health orders that ignore or downplay the physical and moral dangers of reopening is unlikely to improve matters.

“We’re extremely frustrated, angry, scared, that Elon is putting his cars before his workers,” a Tesla worker told The Washington Post. “He’s putting those cars before his employees and their well-being.”

The long-term effects on the business - and how it is viewed by consumers, workers and lawmakers - remains to be seen. 

Image Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

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