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Covid infections reached more than 132 at SpaceX’s California headquarters, health officials say

The company said the infections took place over a three-month period and that ‘only one case was suspected to have occurred at work’

A model of the Crew Dragon spacecraft at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., in 2018. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)
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This story has been updated with response from SpaceX and FedEx.

SpaceX had 132 employees test positive for covid-19 at its headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., according to the Los Angeles County Health Department, as the hard-charging space company founded by Elon Musk has kept a torrid pace of rocket launches heading into the new year.

In a statement Tuesday, SpaceX said that “only one case was suspected to have occurred at work” and that the numbers were from over several months, going back to September, when “several employees who work in the same area contracted COVID outside of work at a non-work-related event.” That triggered SpaceX to report results to the county health department, it said.

The number “does not mean 132 employees in Hawthorne have COVID today or contracted it in the workplace," the company said.

The numbers were the largest among businesses in Los Angeles County, officials said, and comes as the omicron variant is spreading rapidly across the United States and around the world. Almost 90 countries have now reported omicron cases, sparking fresh concerns for already strained health systems, communities and economies.

It added that the company “will continue to work very hard to keep employees safe in the workplace.”

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In L.A. County, a FedEx facility had the second-highest number of people test positive, with 85, the health department reported, but FedEx also said that total was over months, not a current outbreak.

“The COVID-19 cases at the FedEx LAX ramp reported by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health represent the total number of cases that were reported by FedEx during the six-month period from June to November 2021,” spokeswoman Isabel Rollison said in an email. “It does not accurately reflect the number of current cases, which is very low.”

In California, where the average number of new cases being recorded daily has spiked by 64 percent according to Washington Post tracking, a statewide mandate requiring residents to wear masks indoors took effect last week and is expected to last until mid-January. People are asked to wear a face covering regardless of their vaccination status in a bid to slow transmission of the virus.

“We know people are tired and hungry for normalcy,” Mark Ghaly, secretary of California’s health agency, said last week as New York also announced an indoor mask mandate. “Frankly, I am too,” but masks are a “tool that we know has worked and can work.”

This is not the first time outbreaks have been reported at facilities led by Musk.

Last year, Musk defied efforts by local officials to shut down his Tesla plant in the San Francisco area despite a countywide stay-home order, daring officials to arrest him. “Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules,” Musk wrote on Twitter in May 2020. “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

County-level data obtained by a legal transparency website covering the months between May and December last year showed there were about 450 total reported cases at the plant, which employs about 10,000, The Post reported previously.

Tesla also came under fire for its treatment of employees after some who expressed concern about coronavirus exposure said they were issued termination notices after they did not return to work, The Post reported last year.