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Tesla employees test positive for Covid-19 amid California shutdown

The company has notified the staff.

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Two Tesla employees have tested positive for Covid-19, according to an email circulated to company employees on Thursday.

The message, seen by Buzzfeed, informed employees that the two had been working from home for almost two weeks. It did not disclose the identity, positions or locations of the workers. The message did not, however, that the likelihood of transmission was low due to social distancing measures taken by the firm.

The email, sent by the vice president of the environmental and safety department Laurie Shelby, read:

“Their direct coworkers, who were already working from home for nearly two weeks as well, were immediately notified so they can quarantine and watch for symptoms [...] In both cases interactions with the individuals had a low likelihood of transmission based on the minimal staff onsite and social distancing measures we took earlier this month.”

It's the latest case to reach Elon Musk's companies, as the CEO works to provide ventilators and masks to the response effort. The CEO claimed he had collected around 250,000 N95 masks ready for shipment over the coming week. Musk announced this week he would reopen Tesla's Giga New York facility to produce ventilators, after closing the facility and the Fremont plant the previous Monday.

Tesla is not the first of Musk's companies to report a coronavirus patient. An internal memo seen by CNBC this week claimed at least one SpaceX employee and one outside healthcare provider had tested positive at the company's Hawthorne, California headquarters. The Telegraph reported that at least 12 employees have been quarantined.

Tesla did not respond to Inverse's request for comment ahead of publication.

Musk was initially dismissive of the response to the virus, describing the coronavirus "panic" as "dumb" on March 6. Days later, he sent an email out to SpaceX employees comparing the 36,000 deaths from automotive accidents in the United States to 36 deaths from the coronavirus.

Tesla instructed employees to stay home if they felt sick or had made contact with someone who had the virus, according to a memo seen by Business Insider in the week of March 12. The following Monday, March 16, Musk sent an email to Tesla employees that seemed to broaden this policy:

"I'd like to be super clear that if you feel the slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable, please do not feel obligated to come to work. [...] I will personally be at work, but that's just me. Totally ok if you want to stay home for any reason."

In the same email, Musk did note that "my frank opinion remains that the harm from the coronavirus panic far exceeds that of the virus itself."

The rear of a Tesla vehicle.Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The situation intensified over the following days. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, announced a shelter-at-home order on March 20. At that time, the state had more than 1,030 cases. Newsom projected that 56 percent of the state's population could be infected.

Panasonic, which produces batteries for Tesla, announced March 20 it would withdraw its 3,500 employees from Giga Nevada for a 14-day period. Tesla closed its Fremont and Buffalo, New York, facilities on March 23, after a back-and-forth discussion over whether its business was essential. The company's newest production facility in Shanghai had closed for less than two weeks before reopening on February 10.

In the case of SpaceX, Buzzfeed reported on March 20 that the company remains open due to its position as a government contractor. An employee at Xplor, the on-campus pre-school, voiced concerns about the company's policy.

The virus, which first broke out in Wuhan, has led to nearly 500,000 active cases worldwide. The outbreak is unlikely to subside soon: Newsom stated Wednesday that it would be "misleading" to suggest the state could leave the shutdown by Easter.

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