A Panasonic employee at Tesla’s solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York, tested positive for COVID-19 in March, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, according to internal emails obtained by The Verge. He is the fourth known employee at Tesla’s US facility. USA Positive for COVID-19, after one at Gigafactory in Nevada and two office workers in California.
It is unclear when the worker received positive test results, but plant employees were notified by email on March 28. A spokesman for Panasonic North America told The Verge on Wednesday that it did not hear of the employee’s positive test until last weekend, sometime before the email was sent.
The infected employee was not in the office after March 17, according to emails, which a current employee provided to The Verge on condition of anonymity. On March 20, Panasonic announced plans to shut down its operations at the New York factory for two weeks. That shutdown has now been extended until at least April 19, according to one of the emails. Tesla has also temporarily closed its operations at the New York factory, though CEO Elon Musk has said he wants to reopen it “as soon as humanly possible” to make ventilators, possibly with medical technology company Medtronic.
A head of RR. The company also performed a “thorough cleaning and disinfection” of the employee’s workstation before closure. However, it is unclear whether Panasonic notified the workers with whom the infected employee interacted earlier, as the company did not go into detail beyond a statement it provided.
“We can confirm that a Panasonic employee at our Buffalo facility has been diagnosed with COVID-19. We wish them good health and a speedy recovery, ”the company said in the statement provided to The Verge. “This was one of several scenarios that Panasonic has extensively planned, as nothing is more important than the health and safety of our employees and the communities in which we work.”
Days before the shutdown, Panasonic Solar North America (PSNA) President Mark Shima told employees he would return to Japan to renew his visa before it expired on April 1, according to a letter posted on a bulletin board in the Buffalo factory, a photo of which was seen by The Verge. Shima told employees that he had “a couple of things to do in Japan” and will have to quarantine when he returns, so “his next PSNA appearance will be expected around April 27 (tentative),” according to the letter.
Shima told employees that he will be working remotely from Japan or Buffalo in the meantime. “Please take care of yourself and your family’s health, take precautions for any deaths, including [sic] Coronavirus and flu. I am very sorry for my absence during this extremely difficult time, but I sincerely appreciate your understanding and excellent work. Safety first! ! “
Panasonic announced in February that it will stop manufacturing solar cells and modules at the New York factory later this year, ending a nearly four-year relationship dating back to 2016. The company also helps make batteries for cars from Tesla at Gigafactory in Nevada. Panasonic began shutting down operations at the Nevada factory on March 20 after a state refugee notice. Tesla did the same a week later.