Tesla Inc cannot continue to operate its main U.S. vehicle factory normally as the San Francisco Bay Area has begun a three-week lockdown to rein in the spread of coronavirus, a spokesman for the county sheriff's office said on Tuesday.
Tesla's sole U.S. auto factory in Alameda County employs more than 10,000 workers and had an annualized production of slightly over 415,000 units by the fourth quarter.
The county is one of six covered by a 'shelter in place' order from regional authorities that limits activity, travel and business functions to only the most essential, and advises people to stay home except for the most crucial reasons.
"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 spokesman said.
Asked what enforcement measures the county would take if Tesla did not comply, the spokesman only said that Tesla would be in violation of the California health and safety code.
Under Alameda County's lockdown order issued on Monday, violations or failure to comply is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.
Businesses deemed non-essential can only maintain minimum basic operations under the order, such as maintaining the value of inventory, ensuring security and processing payroll and employee benefits.
But the county sheriff's spokesman declined to provide details on any enforcement measures the sheriff's office would take. He said his office had not spoken to Tesla since implementing the order.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
Alameda's decision sparked passionate reactions online. Some users on Twitter accused the sheriff's office of being in the pockets of company short sellers, while others applauded the move as a responsible one to keep workers safe.
"Food might be essential, but not Teslas. Subjecting 10,000 workers to this pandemic is shameful," Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, posted on Twitter.
Prior to the county's decision, Tesla told employees in an email that the company and its suppliers would continue operations supporting the manufacturing and delivery of vehicles, a person who had see the email told Reuters.
Videos by a reporter of the Los Angeles Times shot in front of Tesla's Fremont factory grounds on Tuesday showed dozens of workers lining up for buses to be taken to work.
The California governor on Tuesday referred to California's Department of Public Health when asked whether the state planned to issue any shutdown guidelines for manufacturing facilities.
That department said in a statement more guidance would likely be issued in the days ahead, but did not provide details.
In an internal memo on Monday, Tesla's billionaire CEO Elon Musk told employees he was not aware of any workers who had tested positive for the virus, and urged them to stay home if they felt the "slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable," sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Bay Area counties had reported 273 coronavirus infections by Monday. California has reported six deaths from the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the virus.
Separately on Tuesday, the National Automobile Dealers Association, representing franchised U.S. new car dealers, sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, calling on the administration to pass national guidelines deeming vehicle repair, maintenance and sales facilities essential businesses.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul, Ann Maria Shibu in Bengaluru and Yilei Sun in Beijing; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Lincoln Feast and Himani Sarkar)