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Coronavirus Update: Alameda County Health Officials Approve Tesla Reopening Plans

FREMONT (CBS SF) -- After days of contentious debate, Alameda County health officials have approved plans by automaker Elon Musk to fully reopen his Fremont Tesla assembly plant next week under the watchful eyes of the local police department.

Workers have been streaming into the plant since early Monday in defiance of a local coronavirus shelter in place ordinance while Musk has taken to social media to defiantly challenge the mandate. He even threatened to move the operation out of the state of California.

Both sides became entrenched for nearly two days in a standoff. President Donald Trump, Gov. Gavin Newsom, local officials, Tesla workers, nearby business owners and Fremont residents all weighed in. Some showed their support for Musk's demands while others cautioned against what they believed was a too early reopening.

RELATED: Tesla Reopening Plan

On Wednesday, Tesla employees arriving at work were greeted by a crowd of demonstrators who want to see all businesses back to work.

One supporter told KPIX 5, "We are here to support Elon Musk and his ability to open up and have workers make money as they can save their families."

"We are the people, please listen to us," said small business supporter Mary Lynn Pelican. "We want shelter-in-place and safety but we want people to have their jobs back."

Tesla and Alameda County came to an agreement on safety measures for its employees. The factory is allowed to ramp up operations with specified guidelines. But the demonstrators didn't agree with that protocol.

"I think we need to let industries decide underwhat condition can they safely operate under the current situation," said small business supporter George Yang.

"We should not let our health officer tell us what to do they should make recommendations on how to open businesses are really hurting," said Anna Kramer with  San Mateo GOP.

Those who obeyed the health order say this reopening system doesn't seem fair.

"We don't have to open up everything just like that," said one demonstrator. "But we do need to look at why do we have a Home Depot open and 200 in that store when we can't even put 10 people spaced properly in a mom and pop shop or restaurant tell me why."

On Tuesday night, the cantankerous debate appeared to have come to an end. But there are conditions.

"We reviewed the plan and held productive discussions today with Tesla's representatives about their safety and prevention plans, including some additional safety recommendations," the Alameda Health Department said in a statement. "If Tesla's Prevention and Control Plan includes these updates, and the public health indicators remain stable or improve, we have agreed that Tesla can begin to augment their Minimum Business Operations this week in preparation for possible reopening as soon as next week."

Health officials said the Fremont police department would monitor conditions at the plant to make sure proper social distancing practices were being maintained.

"We will be working with the Fremont Police Department to verify Tesla is adhering to physical distancing and that agreed upon health and safety measures are in place for the safety of their workers as they prepare for full production," the statement read.

Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, lauded the agreement.

"Reopening our economy and getting people back to work safely isn't going to be easy, but it's absolutely necessary," Wunderman said. "We applaud Alameda County, Supervisor Scott Haggerty and Tesla for collaborating to reach a mutual resolution that will enable thousands of workers to get back to their jobs as we struggle through one of the most challenging crises we have ever faced."

"As we have maintained, the Bay Area's leaders, along with Governor Newsom, can take great pride in having saved many lives by taking early and aggressive actions to prevent the spread of the virus. Now that we are in the recovery phase, with new disease and hospitalization trends continuing to improve, we urge our leaders to move as quickly as possible, while still staying laser-focused on safety, to get people back to work and save many businesses that face potential closure."

RELATED: Musk Coronavirus Stories

Musk sent an email to his employees on Tuesday.

"Just wanted to send you a note of appreciation for working hard to make Tesla successful. It is so cool seeing the factory come back to life and you are making it happen!!

An honest day's work spent building products or providing services of use to others is extremely honorable. I have vastly more respect for someone who takes pride in doing a good job, whatever the profession, than some rich or famous person who does nothing useful.

Gratefully yours,

When Musk defied the health order and reopened his plant Monday, it put the county in a difficult position: whether to force the shutdown of one of its biggest employers.

"This whole situation is relatively confusing to Elon Musk, too," said Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty. 'He has a federal order that says he's an essential business, he has a state order that says he's an essential business, and the county says 'No you're not and you can't open.' So I think he is in a difficult position to and he's trying to figure his way out."

And triggered a debate among local residents.

"I think they should open," said Stephanie Moniz, a dental assistant who remains out of work. "I mean, it's a big company. Everybody relies on that. I have family members who live here in Fremont who are not working because the company's closed."

Even among Tesla employees there is also some debate. Most welcome the return and a steady paycheck, while a few are worried about their health.

A Tesla production line employee, who did not want to be identified, told KPIX that he was told by his supervisor to return to work on Sunday at 6 p.m. However, the employee said he chose to follow the county's stay-at-home order instead.

"The employees are caught in a power struggle," he said. "I was told I was going to be removed from furlough, placed on unpaid leave and told that my unemployment benefits could be impacted."

Even with Tesla's extra precautions, the anonymous Tesla employee said it's still not enough. He has a newborn at home.

"You're going to be interacting with several different people all throughout the day, touching all the same tools that they're touching," he said.

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