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Tesla plant will remain open after local shelter-in-place order

However, the local government will only allow a fraction of the workforce onsite.

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Building EVs is not an essential business, the local government declared.

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After all of the drama, Tesla's signature factory in Fremont, California, will remain operational amid the Alameda county's shelter-in-place order, issued as governments work to contain the coronavirus' spread.

This story has gone back and forth numerous times over the course of 24 hours, but the final decision, as Buzzfeed News reported Wednesday afternoon, is that Tesla can keep 2,500 workers at the plant. What isn't clear is if the Fremont-based factory will continue to build cars. Tesla did not return a request for comment.

On Tuesday, we learned Tesla wouldn't be included in the shelter-in-place order that will keep thousands inside their homes aside from travel for essential needs like food and medicine. However, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department quickly issued a statement saying Tesla "is not an essential business as defined in the Alameda County Health Order. Tesla can maintain minimum basic operations per the Alameda County Health Order."

A county spokesperson originally told the Los Angeles Times that Tesla would be exempt from the order.

Then came an email CNBC obtained, which put Tesla's head of human resources on the record telling all employees "there are no changes in your normal assignment and you should continue to report to work if you are in an essential function." The "essential function" portion mentions production, service, deliveries, testing and more. Essentially, it was a business as usual attitude.

Tesla's HR head cited "conflicting" guidance from different levels of government for the drama surrounding this situation and said it awaits final word from the city, county, state and federal governments. Until then, the email said employees may work as long as they feel comfortable. If a worker does feel ill, the HR head said he or she should use paid time off and stay home. Tesla will not discipline any workers for not reporting for work, or for an absence due to illness, the email also mentions.

Now, according to a new statement the Alameda County Sheriff's Department released to Buzzfeed News, Tesla may operate with 2,500 workers -- a fraction of the plant's total employees. The department did not immediately return Roadshow's request for comment and it's not clear when Tesla will begin to reduce its workforce.

The Tesla plant employs over 10,000 workers and the order to cease operations comes just as the company started to deliver the Model Y electric SUV. Tesla was also forced to shut down its Shanghai-based facility temporarily as the coronavirus outbreak spread across China. There, the plant had just started to deliver Model 3 sedans to local customers.

As for what nonessential businesses can do during the shelter-in-place order, the county said maintaining the value of inventory, security and processing payroll are still permitted. Those in violation may receive a fine or be subject to prison time.

Originally published March 18, 7:38 a.m. PT.
Update, 2:25 p.m.: Adds information from sheriff's office that will allow Tesla to continue some operations.

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