It has now emerged that Elon Musk’s insistence on reopening Tesla’s factory in California in May last year – despite a countywide stay-at-home order – led to the Fremont plant recording hundreds of Covid-19 cases. This is according to county-level data obtained by legal transparency website PlainSite following a court ruling this year, reported by The Washington Post.

The data showed that Tesla received around 10 reports of Covid in May when the Fremont plant reopened, and the number of cases rose steadily to 125 in December 2020. The data, which covered the months between May and December last year, showed there were around 450 total reported Covid cases. The plant employs around 10,000 people.

Tesla CEO Musk was incensed with the Alameda county shutdown. In late April 2020, he attacked government mandates, even hurling expletives during an earnings call and calling them “fascist”. In May, Musk said Tesla was reopening, drawing support from anti-shutdown crowds and even former president Donald Trump.

“Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me,” he tweeted on May 12.

Tesla and the authorities came to an agreement in mid-May. For the electric car company to reopen, it was required to report positive cases to the health department. Data released by Alameda County shows there were 19 reported cases in June and 58 reported cases at the plant in July.

According to The Washington Post, Tesla came under fire for its treatment of workers. The EV maker had promised staff could remain home if they felt uncomfortable returning to the line. The Post reported mid last year that workers concerned about Covid exposure received termination notices after they did not return to work.

Musk has been a Covid sceptic. He contracted the disease in November 2020, but according to Insider, in the months before that Musk insisted that the virus was not very deadly, that young people weren’t vulnerable, and that doctors were misattributing deaths to Covid instead of other causes.

He also called stay at home orders “fascist” and “forcible imprisoning”, while also predicted that the US would be reporting “close to zero new cases” by the end of April 2020. Last Friday, the Tesla chief tweeted doubts on safety aspects of coronavirus vaccines even as medical experts assure that they are safe, so he has at least been consistent.