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Musk Says Science Doesn’t Back LA County Mask Mandate, Makes It Optional For Employees

Elon Musk has clashed with government regulators many times.
Fabian Sommer/Fabian Sommer/dpa
Elon Musk has clashed with government regulators many times, most recently over a new Los Angeles County Mask Mandate.

Billionaire rocketman Elon Musk has repeatedly bristled at California’s handling of the global pandemic that has to date killed more than 600,000 Americans, and he again defied local public health authorities this week.

Musk sent an email Monday to the company’s 9,500-person staff celebrating the recent successful test fire of the company’s Super Heavy Rocket in South Texas. After thanking his staff, he told them that the new indoor mask mandateimposed by the Los Angeles County Health Department was optional for the vaccinated.

“You can wear a mask if you want, now or forever, but you are not required by SpaceX policy to wear one,” Musk explained.

In the emails obtained by TPR, Musk also said he wasn’t alone in his assessment of the guidelines. He pointed to a Washington Post story about the L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva refusing to enforce the ban because it wasn’t backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Like the L.A. County Sheriff, SpaceX believes in science,” read the email to staff.

The CDC recommendsunvaccinated people wear masks indoors. It doesn’t rule out local health authorities taking additional steps.

According to employees, the emails were a reversal of the company policy which initially said staff were to fully observe the county mandate.

After Musk’s email, the policy was updated to reflect his wishes.

“We’re getting some questions regarding our latest mask policy,” read a subsequent email to staff from the company’s communications department.

“Although L.A. County has issued an indoor mask mandate, it is inconsistent with the science and recommendations coming from the CDC,” it read.

It also asked all unvaccinated employees to wear a mask indoors at all times except when eating or drinking.

The L.A. County Health Department said it has public health inspectors in the field every day to educate and, if need be, thwart bad actors.

“Where there are continued flagrant violations, citations may be issued to noncompliant businesses,” wrote a spokeswoman, responding to TPR’s question.

LA County announced the policy change last week to combat the rise in coronavirus infections. The more-transmissible delta variant has largely been responsible for the state’s explosive growth in new cases. It continues to grow exponentially each week. Dr. Barbara Ferrer told journalists on Thursday that the county had 2,767 new cases, an 80% rise from the week prior.

The policy has been extremely unpopular with many cities in the county, which say they will not enforce it.

SpaceX is headquartered in Hawthorne, California, near the Los Angeles International Airport.

Musk has never been shy about attacking his perceived enemies and giving the figurative middle finger to regulators.

Last year, Musk lashed out at California state and local officials, calling shelter in place orders “facist.” He unloaded on social media over Alameda County blocking his attempts to reopen his factory for the electric car company Tesla. He sued the county in federal court and threatened to move Tesla to Texas or Nevada.

These dust-ups between Musk and California officials bring smiles to the faces of many Texas state leaders, who have aggressively courted Musk over the past decade.

And Texas has taken a very different route than California, often tying the hands of local health officials in deference to the economy.

Musk has increasingly shifted his presence to the Lone Star State. He reportedly bought a small prefabricated home in the state and is selling his California homes. The enormous Cybertruck facility is being built in Austin. His boring company has facilities in the capital city as well.

Beyond Tesla, the billionaire’s company SpaceX announced another engine factory in McGregor, southwest of Waco, and built up his South Texas launch site at Boca Chica Beach, renaming the area “Starbase.” In fact, the company killed the idea of building its next generation Starship vehicles at the Port of Los Angeles last year, instead opting to build it in South Texas and Florida.

How long Musk’s Texas honeymoon lasts is uncertain. He is already starting to see pushback about how his South Texas rocket explosions are impacting the publicBoca Chica Beach, home to a few endangered species.

And while Musk may be thrilled to have the California public health authorities out of his hair, his troubles in Texas aren’t over. He has for the better part of the past decade battled state lawmakers to be able to sell his electric cars directly to consumers. Each session they decline. So he has to ship cars out of state to sell them to Texans.

And he found out Monday he will have to contend with a more robust Federal Aviation Administration. Musk has routinely battled the agency, and he used social media to call its space division “fundamentally broken.” The FAA announced it was opening a new Field Safety office specifically to bolster its monitoring and inspections of commercial space flight in Texas and New Mexico — and focusing on billionaire rocketmen like Musk, Branson and Bezos.

So, Texas — even with its no income tax, hands-off regulatory approach and love of corporate welfare — will still, at some point, incur the wrath of its newest billionaire resident.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org