- Billionaire once predicted deadly coronavirus would largely disappear by April
- Musk called government efforts to contain spread of COVID-19 “fascist”
- He twice defied orders from health officials on closing his Tesla auto plant
by Douglas Messier
Elon Musk, who just six weeks dismissed the possibility that he would be infected with COVID-19, might in fact have caught the deadly virus. On Thursday, the SpaceX CEO tweeted:
Something extremely bogus is going on. Was tested for covid four times today. Two tests came back negative, two came back positive. Same machine, same test, same nurse. Rapid antigen test from BD,” Musk tweeted on Thursday.
Musk, who said he is experiencing symptoms of a mild cold, said he has been tested twice more using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The samples are being analyzed at two separate labs, with results expected on Friday.
SpaceX is due to launch a crew of four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft on Saturday evening. If Musk tests positive for COVID-19, he would likely not be in the SpaceX control room in Hawthorne, Calif. for the launch. People diagnosed with the virus are asked to quarantine themselves.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the rapid antigen test that Musk took four times for emergency use. It has been known to have issues with reliability.
One issue with the tests involve when they are taken. Responding to Musk, Dr. Eugene Gu tweeted:
It matters what order you received those results. If you had the first two tests come back negative earlier in the day and then the last two tests come back positive later in the day, then it could mean you passed the threshold for detecting the coronavirus as they replicated.
In late September, Musk dismissed concerns about the deadly virus that has killed more than 240,000 Americans.
“I’m not at risk for COVID, nor are my kids,” Musk said during an appearance on The New York Times “Sway” podcast.
Earlier this year, the billionaire called panic over the virus “dumb” and predicted that new cases would probably be close to zero in April if current trends continued. They didn’t, and the pandemic only grew worse.
In March, Musk defied an order from Alameda County to shut down his Telsa auto plant in California to slow the spread of the virus. He kept the plant open for a week after other businesses closed in compliance with the county’s order.
Alameda issued the stay-at-home order in concert with five other San Francisco Bay area counties as cases of virus surged. California officials later issued a similar order for the entire state.
Musk railed against the shutdown, calling it “fascist”, unconstitutional and “not democratic.” In April, NPR reported:
“I would call it forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights — that’s my opinion,” Musk said in a call with investors on Wednesday.
The famously mercurial CEO said the shelter-in-place orders from authorities — designed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus — are “breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong and not why people came to America or built this country.” He followed that with a phrase featuring an expletive.
Officials allowed Tesla to reopen in May. However, Musk defied an Alameda County order to keep the Tesla plant until health officials could approve the company’s plan to protect workers. He reopened the facility order, daring county officials to have him arrested at the plant.
Musk also sued Alameda County. Tesla later dropped the lawsuit.
In early July, a group called Workers United Against Covid-19 that included two Tesla employees claimed the company’s efforts to protect its employees against COVID-19 were inadequate. The group called upon Alameda County officials to investigate conditions at the auto plant.
Courthouse News Service reported:
“This is a dire health and safety emergency because the state is not taking care of workers at Tesla,” said group member Steve Zeltzer.
Carlos Gabriel said he knows of 30 people who have contracted the novel coronavirus at the Fremont plant, but said because Tesla performs its own contact tracing, the determination that all 30 people caught the disease outside of the confines of the factory doesn’t hold water.
“There is a definite trust issue there,” Gabriel said….
Gabriel said this was all part of a campaign to put profits over the safety of his workers.
In mid-July, the industry website Electrek obtained internal Tesla documents that showed 130 workers had tested positive for the virus and that 1,550 other employees had been affected by the virus. Electrek reported:
“Affected” doesn’t necessarily mean that the employees tested positive for the virus, but Tesla appears to classify “affected” workers who have been exposed to other workers who were confirmed to have the virus.
Based on Tesla’s own data, the majority of employees tracked for exposure have been not been tested, or it is unknown whether they have been tested….
The data seems to indicate that most “affected” employees have been identified as such for having “direct contact outside of work,” though most cases are still “unspecified.”
In another slide, Tesla’s data confirms that the number of “exposure” among employees at Fremont factory has been spiking in the last two weeks.
In response to the report, Tesla sent an email to employees denying there was an outbreak at the plant. The Associated Press reported:
In an email to workers Wednesday night, the company said that since January it has had fewer than 10 cases of the virus that causes COVID-19 that were transmitted in the workplace.
But the email from Laurie Shelby, Tesla’s vice president of environmental, safety and health, also confirmed reports that Tesla is looking into more than 130 positive tests among employees, including those who contracted the virus outside of Tesla facilities. She said less than 0.25% of employees worldwide have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which equals just over 137 workers….
Shelby wrote that the story referred to data ‘that was in the process of being validated’ and included employees worldwide who may have been infected but never entered a Tesla site, or were infected at home while Tesla’s operations were shut down earlier in the year. A Tesla spokesman would not comment on the report or the email, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
‘Nearly all ” more than 99.99% ” of these occurrences were not cases of virus transmitted at work,’ Shelby wrote in the email. ‘Most of the positive cases resulted from an individual living with or traveling with someone with COVID-19 and have returned to work after recovering from home.’
Shelby wrote that Tesla doesn’t have any employees in serious condition anywhere in the world because of COVID-19.
Since the first U.S. case of coronavirus was reported in January, Musk has grown vastly wealthier as Tesla has continued to generate quarterly profits and the company’s stock soared.
On Oct. 26, Forbes reported Musk will receive another $2.9 billion in compensation from Telsa in addition to $571 million he received earlier this year.
Tesla has yet to slow down despite the raging pandemic and economic crisis, reporting its fifth straight quarterly profit last week. Thanks to the strong results, CEO Elon Musk is now eligible to receive the fourth tranche of his massive $55 billion compensation package.
Musk is already the fifth richest person in the world, worth $91.9 billion, Forbes estimates. His net worth has nearly quadrupled since mid-March, when he ranked No. 31 on our World’s Billionaires list, with a net worth of $24.6 billion. Musk owns 21% of Tesla but has pledged more than half his stake as collateral for personal loans; Forbes applies a discount to his pledged shares to account for the loans. His stake in reusable rocket company SpaceX represents less than a quarter of his fortune.
Musk has previously unlocked three tranches. Tesla has paid richly for these paydays, spending $571 million on stock compensation for the nine months ending September 30, more than double the same period last year.
Musk takes a relatively small annual salary from Tesla. Most of his compensation comes in the form of stock tranches that require the company to meet preset performance goals.