Innovation

Elon Musk to reopen Tesla’s New York plant for a very good reason

The Tesla CEO is moving fast.

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Tesla will reopen its New York factory to produce ventilators in the fight against the coronavirus, Elon Musk declared Wednesday. The Tesla CEO has committed resources to supply ventilators and masks to address shortages in healthcare systems.

"Giga New York will reopen for ventilator production as soon as humanly possible," Musk wrote on Twitter, referring to the Buffalo facility ordinarily used to produce solar products. "We will do anything in our power to help the citizens of New York."

The comments came after Omar Ishrak, CEO of medical technology firm Medtronic, declared on CNBC that it was working with Tesla as one of its partners. Tesla, Ishrak said, was "on track" to produce one of its ventilators. Medtronic's team spoke with Musk on March 21, which Musk described as "a long engineering discussion with Medtronic about state-of-the-art ventilators."

It comes as Musk has quickly moved into action, aiming to deliver supplies as they're needed. Although initially skeptical his efforts were needed – "I think [Tesla's ventilators] probably won’t be needed," Musk wrote on March 20 – the CEO has pressed Tesla and SpaceX to help produce much-needed equipment.

Over the latter half of March, Musk's team has:

  • Collected together around 250,000 N95 masks ready for shipment.
  • "Bought 1255 FDA-approved ResMed, Philips & Medtronic ventilators" from China due to oversupply, shipping them through Los Angeles airport on Friday.
  • Shipped 50,000 N95 masks and a large number of PAPR helmets to the University of Washington.

These supplies could be needed now more than ever. WorldOMeter reports there are 488,055 active Covid-19 cases globally, with 22,049 deaths. The Society of Critical Care Medicine reported on March 18 that the United States would need around 960,000 ventilators, but only has around 200,000.

Tesla had closed its New York facility Monday, as well as its Fremont plant, in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The latter facility produces electric vehicles for the company. Tesla partner Panasonic, which produces batteries for the company, announced March 20 it would withdraw its 3,500 employees from Giga Nevada for 14 days. Tesla, with support from the Chinese government, was able to reopen Giga Shanghai on February 10 after just a week and a half of closure.

Musk is not the only CEO helping with the response. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff have all pledged to supply masks. Cook announced on March 25 that his team had sourced "10 million masks for the US and millions more for the hardest hit regions in Europe."

Musk had previously questioned the public response to the pandemic. On March 6 he described the "panic" as "dumb" on Twitter. In an email to SpaceX employees, he claimed COVID-19 was "not within the top 100 health risks in the United States," adding that around 36,000 people die in automotive accidents in the United States versus 36 so far from the coronavirus. On March 22, after Musk had pledged resources to fighting the virus, Musk responded to a question about his previous "panic" comments by stating that "panic is always dumb."

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