SpaceX pushes back on 'unsubstantiated' COVID outbreak reports

Blue Origin’s third human spaceflight, the first with 6 on board

Blue Origin’s third human spaceflight, the first with 6 on board.

Elon Musk's SpaceX is pushing back on "unsubstantiated" reports of a COVID-19 outbreak at its corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, California. 

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On Monday, Los Angeles County's Department of Public Health reported at least 132 of the aerospace giant's employees have tested positive for the virus, accounting for approximately a quarter of the total 496 cases recorded from local businesses. 

SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, Sept. 19, 2018. (REUTERS/Mike Blake / Reuters Photos)

However, SpaceX told employees in a message obtained by FOX Business that the agency's figure is the aggregate number of cases reported since September, which includes employees who "may have been on vacation for several weeks, returned to work and received a COVID test at SpaceX that turned out positive."

The aerospace giant emphasized that, of the 132 cases, only one is suspected to have occurred at work in September, noting that "several employees who work in the same area contracted COVID outside of work at a non-work-related event."

"Because SpaceX has worked diligently to ensure testing is available to all employees, and have encouraged employees to get tested at work, these employees received COVID tests in Hawthorne, which triggered SpaceX to report these positive cases to LACDPH," the company explained. "It does not mean 132 employees in Hawthorne have COVID today or contracted it in the workplace. We will continue to work very hard to keep employees safe in the workplace. As always, the latest COVID stats are accessible to all employees on confluence."

Nearly 6,000 SpaceX employees have been working at the Hawthorne office as of May, according to court documents cited by the Los Angeles Times. 

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The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health defines an outbreak as anytime a facility has three or more cases in a 14-day period. During an outbreak, the agency requires all cases to be reported to them until the facility goes 14 days without reporting three or more positive COVID cases. 

Los Angeles County requires all employees to wear face masks while working indoors, regardless of vaccination status, except for when they are actively eating and drinking or alone in a room. Unvaccinated employees are also required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing. 

The county also says employers should maintain a healthy working environment and business operations using methods such as increased ventilation, cleaning and disinfection, and social distancing. In addition, businesses should try to encourage their employees to stay at home if symptomatic, infected or exposed, and to get vaccinated.

A representative for the LACDPH did not immediately return FOX Business' request for comment. 

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SpaceX's clarification comes after Musk has railed against the state's pandemic restrictions in the past. In May 2020, Musk said Tesla's manufacturing plant in Fremont, California, would defy stay-at-home orders and restart production despite not being cleared by Alameda County health officials. 

"I will be on the line with everyone else," Musk tweeted at the time. "If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me."

County level data obtained by legal transparency website PlainSite in March found that around 440 of the facility's roughly 10,000 employees were reported to have tested positive between May and December 2020. 

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The message also comes as the coronavirus' new omicron variant now accounts for around 73% of cases, according to a Monday tweet by the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky. 

The CDC reports that more than 241.8 million Americans ages 5 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, while more than 204 million have been fully vaccinated. Over 60.6 million fully vaccinated American adults have also received a booster dose.   

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