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SpaceX sends some workers home after employee and One Medical medic test positive for COVID-19

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Tesla Inc., speaks during an event at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

At least one employee and one outside health care provider at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, sending some employees into quarantine, according to an internal memo seen by CNBC. At the facility, the company has taken other steps to try and protect nervous workers, including handing out protective gear and making hand sanitizer in-house, according to several current employees and family members who spoke to CNBC.

SpaceX is asking the employees it sent home to remain in quarantine and monitor their own health for any signs of the novel coronavirus for a period of 14 days. One Medical, which provides on-site health services at the facility, is asking all of its healthcare providers who have symptoms of the coronavirus, including the ones near SpaceX’s headquarters in LA, to stay home and get tested immediately.

“One Medical proactively reached out to SpaceX employees who may have been exposed to a COVID-19 positive case,” the provider said in emailed statement to CNBC. “Our clinical team advised these employees to self-quarantine while monitoring for symptoms related to coronavirus.”

SpaceX did not immediately return requests for comment.

The Telegraph previously reported on infected employees at the facility.

The coronavirus outbreak could further impact Elon Musk’s aerospace venture. SpaceX had already delayed the planned March 30 launch of the SAOCOM 1B Earth-observation satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket on the request of Argentina’s space agency due to COVID-19.

Aerospace and defense companies like SpaceX are counted as “critical infrastructure” businesses. Their launches and technology support national security, the functioning of global positioning systems and more. So, employees have little choice but to keep reporting to work if they are healthy enough to do so, even during a pandemic. COVID-19 remains a threat to their health, and has already forced some operational changes.

Hand sanitizer and masks

The memo, which went out on Monday, explains that one employee tested positive after traveling internationally. All employees known to be in close contact with this person were sent home to quarantine for 14 days.

The memo also confirms that a care provider at the One Medical-staffed health center tested positive. This person went home immediately and did not see any patients after the test. Twelve SpaceX employees who were seen by this person over the prior three days were also sent home, and will remain in quarantine. 

The risk to workers from these infections is very low, the memo claims, comparing it to going to the grocery store.

According to several workers and family members who spoke to CNBC, other workers who feel uncomfortable coming to work were given permission to use their sick and vacation days to take time off amid the pandemic. Those who test positive will be granted 10 additional sick days, insiders said. But tests are still hard to come by in the state of California. These people asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to discuss company matters with the press.

These people said that, on site, SpaceX has been reminding employees that they are part of a critical infrastructure business sector, and that their work and future launches will support GPS, national security, Earth observation and NASA missions. 

SpaceX has offered employees who continue to come in to Hawthorne a limited number of personal protective equipment items, like N95 masks and surgical gloves. They are trying to procure more thermometers to do broader screening of employees’ health, according to the memo and one employee. The company also plans to make its own isopropyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer and is making sanitizing wipes and bottles of hand sanitizer available all over the facility. 

The company has taken some other measures, like spacing out the seating around dining tables, and requiring employees to use disposables, rather than the usual dishes and flatware previously available in their kitchens. Employees must also wear surgical gloves when getting coffee from the community kitchens.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that One Medical is asking all of its healthcare providers who have symptoms of the coronavirus to stay home and get tested. 

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