Despite California’s sweeping coronavirus shelter-in-place order, which covered seven counties, including Alameda county, home of Tesla’s Fremont factory, this week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has insisted on keeping the plant open and having employees come in as usual. But workers there might soon be assigned on a task unrelated to electric cars: making hospital ventilators to treat Covid-19 patients.
“We will make ventilators if there is a shortage,” Musk tweeted Wednesday night in response to a Tesla owner urging him to “repurpose your factory to make ventilators” and “stop being an idiot” about the coronavirus situation.
“Tesla makes cars with sophisticated HVAC [Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning] systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly,” Musk explained in a separate tweet, replying to FiveThirtyEight editor in chief, Nate Silver and asking if he know any specific hospitals facing a shortage.
In a letter to Tesla employees on Monday, Musk said the Fremont factory would operate as usual even after the county’s shelter-in-place order took effect, although he’d permit those who have concerns about Covid-10 to stay home. Later in the week, pressured by regulators and peer manufacturing facilities in the area (which had all halted operation), Musk agreed to reduce Fremont factory’s headcount from 10,000 to 2,500, so workers can maintain social distancing while keeping the assembly line running.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.S., Musk has maintained the unpopular view that “the coronavirus panic is dumb,” which he tweeted out loud earlier this month. On Monday this week, he stressed in a letter to Tesla employees that “the harm from the coronavirus panic far exceeds that of the virus itself.”
He predicted that, based on data from the Center for Disease Control, Covid-19 cases in the U.S. “will not exceed 0.1 percent of the U.S. population.”
“I do not think, when we look back on 2020, that the causes of death or serious injury will have changed much from 2017, for example,” Musk wrote.