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Elon Musk says he’s defying government orders, reopening Tesla assembly plant

David Brancaccio, Nova Safo, and Alex Schroeder May 12, 2020
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Musk has also threatened to move his operation out of California altogether. Philip Pacheco/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Elon Musk says he’s defying government orders, reopening Tesla assembly plant

David Brancaccio, Nova Safo, and Alex Schroeder May 12, 2020
Heard on:
Musk has also threatened to move his operation out of California altogether. Philip Pacheco/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Tesla’s Elon Musk says he’s defying government orders and opening up the carmaker’s assembly plant in California. Musk says his business is a special case. All eyes are on local government officials in Silicon Valley and what they’ll do next.

The high-profile showdown is the latest example of the dilemma facing business leaders around the country: When to reopen and how?

President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that the state of California should let Tesla and Elon Musk open the plant now, adding that “it can be done fast and safely.”

The response from local government officials has been more muted so far. Californa Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared caught off guard during a press conference Monday as reporters peppered him with questions about Musk’s decision, which he announced on Twitter. He said if anyone should be arrested for defying government orders, it should be him, not the 10,000 people who work for him.

County officials said in a statement they hoped to work things out. Tesla was supposed to submit a plan yesterday on protocols and a timeline for returning to full operation at the assembly plant. There’s no word yet if that’s happened.

The location of this particular assembly plant, Fremont, California, in Alameda County, is important. It’s a hot spot of COVID-19 infections. There have been 70 deaths, so health officials have been cautious about reopening too quickly.

But Musk has been critical of the pandemic shutdown as a whole, and he sued over the weekend to reopen his factory.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives says Musk is feeling the pressure to resume business.

“Given that they make cars versus, let’s say, services like a Facebook — much different business model, which puts more pressure on them to reopen the factory just given the cash burn that happens every day,” Ives said.

Musk has even threatened to move his operation out of California altogether. But Ives is skeptical — he says that would be a tough and time-consuming thing to do.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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