Elon Musk wasn’t asking for permission. Quite the opposite, in fact. On Monday afternoon, the Tesla CEO told the California government to eat shit. He was reopening his factory and they could come cuff him if they wanted.
That didn’t happen, of course.
Instead, on late Tuesday evening, the Alameda County Public Health Department claimed it had “agreed” to allow the Tesla factory to reopen, as if hadn’t been totally steamrolled. It’s fairly obvious that Musk was holding all the cards, regardless of whatever kind of face-saving agreement may now be on the table.
Tweeting close to midnight, the Alameda County Public Health Department, which apparently spent all of Tuesday dodging questions from reporters, announced it had “agreed” to a “site-specific plan” that would allow Tesla to conduct “Minimum Business Operations.” This will remain in place until next week, officials said, in preparation for a “possible reopening.”
“We will be working with the Fremont Police Department to verify Tesla is adhering to physical distancing and that agreed-upon health and safety measures are in place for the safety of their workers as they prepare for full production,” said the officials, whom Musk referred to as “fascist” last week, adding they would not be answering any questions about the matter.
In a tweet on Saturday, Musk threatened to relocate his factory outside California, calling the lockdown restrictions “the final straw.” (Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters he’d been speaking to Musk on Tuesday.)
Tesla factory workers have reportedly faced threats from management, according to an email obtained by London’s Guardian newspaper. The email is said to have stated that workers who choose not to defy public health orders could remain at home unpaid, but would likely lose access to their unemployment benefits.
A Fremont factory worker, whose identity the paper protected, said tactics of “intimidation” were being used to coerce workers back into the factory. Other workers have told reporters they feel compelled to return to work, despite being fearful of catching the coronavirus, because they have to support their families.
Musk has claimed his business, manufacturing electric cars, is “essential” and should have never been closed in the first place.
As of Wednesday morning, no fewer than 82,300 Americans had died due to complications caused by covid-19. The tally is likely much higher. Known as “excess deaths,” the Centers for Disease Control wrote in a report Monday that as many as 5,000 deaths may have gone unreported in New York City alone.
The number of people dying in their homes is skyrocketing in some major cities, including Boston and Detroit.
Thirty-two new cases of covid-19 and were recorded in Alameda County on Tuesday, according to public figures. Three new deaths were recorded, bringing the total to 74. Around 2,133 cases have been confirmed in the area so far.
Musk is only the latest in a rash of business owners openly defying stay-at-home orders, in what anti-quarantine protesters have portrayed as acts of civil disobedience. In an op-ed for San Jose’s paper of record, the Mercury News, former semiconductor manufacturer T. J. Rodgers painted Musk as a “James Madison” figure and claimed the “health cops” were violating Americans’ rights.
Michigan has become one of the primary battlegrounds for the anti-quarantine movement, which has oddly rallied around a perceived constitutional right to get haircuts. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that armed militia members, many of them waiving Trump flags, were standing guard outside a barbershop in Owosso, population 14,500.
President Trump online has signaled support for the Michigan protesters, who’ve cast Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as a despot. Last month, he called on Michigander to “liberate” the state, which some perceived as a call for insurrection.
Speaking to a Senate committee on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force—who is himself in quarantine after two White House aides tested positive for covid-19—warned against reopening the country too soon. There is a real risk, he said, that new outbreaks will be triggered, setting back the country’s efforts to contain the virus and jump-start the economy.
Such has been the case in South Korea, which last week had to reimpose restrictions on its citizens going to bars and clubs after a second wave of the virus hit.
Some U.S. public health officials have warned another wave is not only possible but probable. A winter assault by the virus, CDC Director Robert Redfield told reporters last month, “will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through.”
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly claimed that “74 deaths were recorded in Alameda County on Tuesday.” It should have said “as of Tuesday.” There were three new deaths recorded that day. We regret the error.