Hundreds of COVID-19 cases were reported at Tesla Inc.’s production plant in Fremont, Calif., after it reopened last May in defiance of local health regulations, according to a new report.
Citing county data obtained by the website Plainsite, the Washington Post first reported that there were around 450 coronavirus cases at the plant between May and December, when cases spiked to 125 cases. About 10,000 people work at the factory.
Tesla’s plant, which manufactures Model S, Model 3, Model X and Model Y electric vehicles, was shut when local shelter-in-place orders were put into effect last March, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. There were concerns at the time that the site could be a potential superspreader location, due to its large workforce coming from a number of neighboring counties.
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk was a vocal opponent of such closures, and repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19. Last May, Musk ordered the factory to reopen and dared local authorities to arrest him. Instead, Alameda County, where Fremont is located, agreed to a deal with Tesla, allowing it to reopen on the condition it complied with specific public-safety measures, including reporting positive COVID-19 cases to the county health department.
Tesla was also sharply criticized last year when, after promising workers they could stay home if they felt unsafe due to COVID-19, the company reversed course in June and said that employees who did not return to work would be fired.
Workers have complained about unsafe conditions at the Fremont factory for years, and Forbes reported in 2019 that Tesla had accumulated significantly more workplace safety investigations and fines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration than its competitors.
Last week, firefighters were called to the Fremont plant after hydraulic fluid ignited a fire at Tesla’s so-called Giga Press, a giant auto-parts stamping machine. There were no reported injuries, and its effect on production was not immediately known.
The auto maker dissolved its media-relations team last year and does not respond to media requests for comment.