County deems Tesla a ‘non-essential’ business during shelter-in-place order

Tesla is not an essential business according to the Alameda County Sheriff, a declaration that could force the automaker to shutter some of its operations in the county under a shelter in-place directive that was ordered because of the global spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by the coronavirus.

The county, which includes Fremont, where Tesla’s factory is located, issued Monday a shelter-in-place order that requires all non-essential businesses to close, including bars, gyms and dine-in restaurants. Takeout and delivery restaurants are still allowed.

Tesla kept the Fremont factory open despite the order, claiming that part of the company’s operations fell under an exemption in the county’s order. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told employees in an email that the company would continue operations at the Fremont factory, where the automaker assembles the Model S, Model X, Model 3 and now Model Y electric vehicles. Musk did tell employees that should not feel obligated to come to work if they “feel the slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable,” according to an email first reported by Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg.

The email to Tesla factory employees came just a few days after Musk sent an email to workers at his other company SpaceX that seemed to downplay the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alameda County officials were determining whether Tesla was, in fact, able to claim that exemption. In a tweet Tuesday afternoon, the county sheriff said Tesla is not an essential business as defined in the Alameda County Health Order. “Tesla can maintain minimum basic operations per the Alameda County Health Order,” the sheriff said in the tweet, but did not elaborate what “minimum basic operations” meant or if it could still produce vehicles there.

TechCrunch was unable to reach Tesla for comment. We will update the story as we learn more.