Musk — and his problematic tweets — have prompted controversy for quite some time. His reaction to the coronavirus crisis is no different. Even as public officials around the world have warned of the potentially catastrophic implications of the virus, and as federal, state, and city leaders beg the public to combat the virus’s spread by socially distancing, the South African-born entrepreneur has suggested on Twitter than the whole thing is “dumb,” or at least that everybody should settle down about it. Meanwhile, despite a local shelter-in-place order enacted on Tuesday in several California Bay Area counties, he ignored calls to close a Tesla factory located there. Only on Thursday afternoon, shortly before publication of this story, did Tesla announce it would temporarily suspend production in its Fremont, California, factory on March 23.
Musk is a powerful public figure. In addition to running Tesla, he’s the founder of SpaceX, and many consider him to be one of the most forward-thinking tech figures of our time. But his words and actions often get him into trouble — as they did in 2018 when his off-the-cuff tweet about taking Tesla private sparked federal probes and earned him a Twitter babysitter. In other words, it is less than surprising that Musk is going to be himself during a pandemic, even when it’s not really helping his — or the public’s — cause.
This is noteworthy because what Musk says and does matters. People respect him and follow his advice. If he doesn’t take coronavirus seriously, others might not, either. What’s more, he’s in charge of factories employing thousands of people, and he has taken a contradictory approach compared to other tech and corporate leaders when it comes to letting employees work from home and shifting production to coronavirus-related necessities.
Tesla did not return a request for comment for this story.
March 6: The panic is “dumb”
Musk first made waves in the coronavirus discourse with a single tweet, declaring, “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” It was the most-liked tweet of the week on Twitter.
The coronavirus panic is dumb
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 6, 2020
While in early March concerns about the virus in the US were still muted, there were plenty of signs indicating the situation wasn’t good. A cruise ship with guests who tested positive was marooned off the coast of California. The situation in Italy had become increasingly dire, and concerns were growing about outbreaks in Washington and other states. Global events and conferences were being canceled.
If anything, Musk’s tone at the time was akin to President Donald Trump’s, who at the time was saying the upside to the virus was that “people are now staying in the United States” and spending their money here.
Musk’s coronavirus adventure continued from there, much of it taking place online.
March 8: Musk says virality and death rate of the coronavirus are “overstated”
Two days later, on March 8, Musk doubled down on his stance that the reaction to the virus is “dumb,” saying the fatality rate from the disease is “greatly overstated” because there are few tests. As for the cruise ships, he noted ships with “a lot of people & limited medical facilities are a serious issue.”
Fatality rate also greatly overstated. Because there are so few test kits, those who die with respiratory symptoms are tested for C19, but those with minor symptoms are usually not. Prevalence of coronaviruses & other colds in general population is very high!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 8, 2020
Ships with a lot of people & limited medical facilities are a serious issue
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 8, 2020
March 9 and 10: Musk says stocks were due for a correction, mulls dance party
When stocks began to falter on March 9, he declared the market “was a bit high anyway” and “due for a correction.”
And on March 10 when the Coachella music festival was postponed, he suggested it should remain that way until it “stops sucking.” (Burning Man, on the other hand, he agreed was still worth the experience “for now.”) The same day, he put out a Twitter poll about whether Tesla should have a “mega rave cave.”
Musk seemed to be aware that his comments had been ill-received by many. But he kept at it and took encouragement from his most supportive followers.
Thank you for your kind words, brother
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 11, 2020
March 16: Musk becomes coronavirus reply guy, talks about his own health
This week, it began to seem like Musk maybe was getting the message on coronavirus and had begun to accept that it is a big deal after all, as cities and states began to mandate shutdowns, the stock market plunged, and it became increasingly clear that “social distancing” was on track to be the new norm — not just for weeks but potentially months.
Source Website Elon Musk’s coronavirus journey, from Twitter to Tesla: A timeline