Opinion: We should stop listening to Elon Musk

Photo: JD Lasica (Licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Last month Elon Musk kicked the hornet’s nest when he demanded the country’s lockdown orders be removed. A month earlier, on March 6, the Tesla CEO tweeted that the “coronavirus panic is dumb” and that by the end of April, new cases would go down to zero. Those tweets aged like milk as not only have cases shot up exponentially since then, his plant in Fremont, California plant had to close down as two of his employees got infected.

Many people, including me, do want things to go back to normal, but lifting the lockdown orders right now would be dangerous from a public health perspective. To re-open the country when there’s no available vaccine would risk the health of millions of people. While I respect Musk as a businessman, tech— not epidemiology — is his field of expertise. There have also been several reports of him stripping unemployment benefits from furloughed workers if they chose to stay home. Tesla recently lost $14 billion in value, and Musk himself lost $3 billion in shares, so of course, he has skin in the game. Is this a boss that genuinely cares about his employees well being?

Skeptics like Elon point to the mortality rate claiming that it affects a small group of people. Last time I checked: 87,000 bodies (and counting) is nothing to scoff at. Yes, the virus mainly affects people with pre-existing conditions. However, in the US, health issues like obesity and asthma affect people across socio-economic backgrounds, and those two alone are big triggers for severe illnesses. Twenty-five million American adults alone have asthma, that’s 1 out of 13 people. Even if people recover, there’s a chance they’ll catch it again. Even South Korea and China are dealing with upticks in new cases. If we’re going to tackle this long term, we have to take serious steps to protect and provide for as many people we can. Especially for frontline workers that we’re depending on getting our necessities from. In places like nearby Yakima County, where food processing companies like Dole are significant employers, the county receives 65.8 cases per day compared to 35 cases nationally. Because of the average American’s sedentary lifestyles and poor diet, this virus could hollow out the country even more. People like Musk aren’t taking this seriously enough.

 On March 16,, Musk tweeted the anti-malaria drug  hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment. The same drug the Trump Administration preferred over FDA-approved remdesivir. Hydroxychloroquine was tested on 368 patients by researchers nationwide as part of a study. Some patients had drug plus antibiotics. Based on the study, researchers —in their words — “found no evidence” of it reducing the risk of “the need for mechanical ventilation.” 22 percent of patients died despite having the drug with antibiotics. Twenty eight  percent died without antibiotics. Musk’s vague scientific knowledge doesn’t justify him playing down a public health crisis of this scale, especially when he’s not an immunologist.

Re-opening the country right now would be too risky. Elon scaring workers to come back, despite everything going on, left a bitter taste in my mouth. If we’re gonna deal with this pandemic until 2022, shouldn’t we listen to a health professional? If there’s one thing to learn, it’s that wealth and knowledge don’t always go together.