Tesla CEO Elon Musk has emerged as a champion of defying stay-home orders intended to stop the coronavirus from spreading, picking up support — as well as critics — on social media.
Among the supporters was
President Donald Trump, who on Tuesday morning tweeted that Tesla's San
Francisco Bay Area factory should be allowed to open despite local health
department orders that it stay closed except for minimum basic operations.
"It can be done fast
& safely," the president tweeted, joining many of Musk's 34 million
Twitter followers who back the defiance.
Among Musk's biggest critics is California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who used an expletive to describe the CEO after his threats to relocate his operations to Texas or Nevada. She said the company is disregarding worker safety and bullying public officials.
Tesla's factory reopened Monday with Musk practically daring local authorities to arrest him. The plant apparently continued operations on Tuesday. The company met a Monday deadline to submit a site-specific plan to protect worker safety, which the Alameda County Public Health Department is reviewing, said county spokeswoman Neetu Balram.
The restart defied orders from the Alameda County Public Health Department, which has deemed the factory a nonessential business that can't fully open under virus restrictions. The department said Monday it warned the company was operating in violation of the county health order, and hoped Tesla will "comply without further enforcement measures" until the county approves a site-specific plan required by the state.
The department said it expected Tesla to submit such a plan by 5 p.m. Monday. "We look forward to reviewing Tesla's plan and coming to agreement on protocol and a timeline to reopen safely," the statement read.
A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from Tesla on whether the company met the deadline.
State law allows a fine of up to $1,000 a day or up to 90 days in jail for operating in violation of health orders.
The plant in Fremont, a city of more than 230,000 people south of San Francisco, had been closed since March 23. It employs about 10,000 workers.
Public health experts have
credited the stay-home orders with slowing the spread of novel coronavirus,
helping hospitals handle an influx of cases. The coronavirus causes mild or
moderate symptoms for most people. But it has killed more than 80,000 people in
the U.S., with the death toll rising.
Alameda County was among six San Francisco Bay Area counties that were the first in the nation to impose stay-at-home orders in mid-March. Gov. Gavin Newsom has repeatedly said that counties can impose restrictions that are more stringent than state orders.
The order in the Bay Area has
been extended until the end of the month, but the counties plan to allow some
limited business and manufacturing starting May 18, the same day Detroit
automakers plan to reopen auto assembly plants. Some auto parts plants were to
restart production this week.
The Detroit automakers'
150,000 U.S. workers are represented by the United Auto Workers union, which
has negotiated for added safety precautions. Tesla's workers do not have a
Musk, whose company has sued
Alameda County seeking to overturn its order, threatened to move Tesla's
manufacturing operations and headquarters from the state.
Tesla contends in the lawsuit
that Alameda County can't be more restrictive than orders from Newsom. The
lawsuit says the governor's coronavirus restrictions refer to federal
guidelines classifying vehicle manufacturing as essential businesses that are
allowed to continue operating.
No agency appeared ready to
enforce the order against Tesla. County Sheriff Sgt. Ray Kelly said any
enforcement would come from Fremont police. Geneva Bosques, Fremont police
spokeswoman, said officers would take action at the direction of the county
County Supervisor Scott
Haggerty, who represents Fremont, said he's been working on the issue for weeks
trying to find a way for Tesla to reopen in a way that satisfies the health
officer. He said officials were moving toward allowing Tesla to restart May 18,
but he suspects Musk wanted to restart stamping operations to make body parts
needed to resume assembling electric vehicles.
Tesla has a plan to maintain worker safety, including the wearing of gloves and masks, installing barriers between workers and maintaining social distancing. Haggerty said the company initially pushed back on checking employee temperatures before boarding a company bus to get to work. But Tesla relented, he said, and agreed to check workers.
Musk has been ranting about
the stay-home order since the company's April 29 first-quarter earnings were
released. He called the restrictions fascist and urged governments to stop
taking people's freedom.
Krisher reported from Detroit. AP Reporters Janie Har and Juliet Williams in San Francisco and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.