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The show Musk go on: Tesla defies Silicon Valley coronavirus lockdown order, keeps Fremont factory open

Elsewhere, Geek Squad still sending out techies to elderly people's homes

Updated Tesla CEO Elon Musk said employees should continue working at the automaker's Fremont factory despite the site falling under the San Francisco Bay Area's strict near-lockdown order.

Alameda County, where the factory is located, is among several California counties – San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa, and Sonoma – that this week issued a shelter-in-place order to mitigate the spread of the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus.

The legally enforceable order instructs all “non-essential” businesses to close, and all residents to self isolate at home, until April 7: folks are allowed out, for example, to stock up on groceries, show up to work at essential organizations, such as police and fire departments, and get exercise and fresh air, with caveats.

However, bars, cafes, hairdressers, and clubs must shut, restaurants be delivery-only, gatherings are banned, and so on. If you can work from home, you work from home. The streets of San Francisco are quiet.

Breaking the order is a misdemeanor crime, though the cops have said they'll only cite someone as a last resort.

Under the order, automakers such as Tesla aren’t considered essential. The Alameda County Sheriff confirmed this on Twitter, and said the biz could only maintain “minimum basic operations”:

The order [PDF] defines “minimum basic operations” as:

  • The minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of the business’s inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions.
  • The minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees of the business being able to continue to work remotely from their residences.

An internal memo sent to all Tesla employees, however, stated the biz had received “conflicting guidance from different levels of government” as to whether its Fremont plant should close or not. The email, seen by CNBC, said only “essential employees” should go into work. That included folks working in production, service, deliveries, and testing.

If employees did not belong to any of those groups, they may be redirected to temporarily work in those essential areas and should expect to be on call. Only those who are sick should stay at home. On the other hand, Tesla is winding down its operations to 2,500 employees from its usual 10,000, according to Buzzfeed.

Tesla’s decision to defy local government orders isn’t too surprising, considering its CEO’s attitude to COVID-19:

A few days ago, he added: “Fear is the mind-killer.”

The Health Officer of Alameda County said anyone caught violating the order can be fined $50 to $1,000, imprisoned for up to 90 days, or both, under the law.

As of March 18, the Alameda County Public Health Department has reported 31 cases of COVID-19.

Tesla and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office were not immediately available for comment. ®

Speaking of the coronavirus... Elsewhere in America, away from the San Francisco Bay Area near-lockdown, Best Buy's Geek Squad techies are still visiting people's homes to carry out PC repairs, including the homes of folks particularly susceptible to coronavirus – the elderly – which is worrying staff mindful of the ongoing pandemic, Motherboard reports.

Updated to add

So, Elon blinked. Tesla is scaling back operations in California and New York over the coronavirus outbreak after discussions with the US federal and state governments.

"As such, we have decided to temporarily suspend production at our factory in Fremont, from end of day March 23, which will allow an orderly shutdown," Tesla said in an SEC filing.

"Our factory in New York will temporarily suspend production as well, except for those parts and supplies necessary for service, infrastructure and critical supply chains. Operations of our others facilities will continue, including Nevada and our service and Supercharging network."

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