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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Elon Musk tells SpaceX workers: 'Driving is deadlier than coronavirus'

But NASA tells employees at all centers to work remotely if they can.

Outspoken entrepreneur Elon Musk has sent a memo to SpaceX employees informing them that they're more likely to be killed in a car crash than dying from coronavirus COVID-19

Exactly what point Musk was making in his email on Friday to SpaceX workers isn't clear, but he appears to have wanted to allay panic by pointing out the relative risks of driving versus being infected by the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. 

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SpaceX is gearing up for its first launch with NASA astronauts onboard in May, but that, like so many other events in all industries, could be disrupted by COVID-19. 

The World Health Organization says there are currently 164,837 confirmed cases and 6,470 deaths due to COVID-19. In a March 12 update it warned that a surge in "critically ill patients requiring mechanical ventilation has strained some health systems and exhausted biomedical supplies and staff". 

SEE: Exomedicine arrives: How labs in space could pave the way for healthcare breakthroughs on Earth (cover story PDF)

Musk's email, seen by BuzzFeed News, tells workers that all the evidence he had seen about COVID-19 "suggests that this is *not* within the top 100 health risks in the United States". In the US, there have been 1,678 confirmed cases.    

"As a basis for comparison, the risk of death from C19 is *vastly* less than the risk of death from driving your car home," Musk wrote to SpaceX employees. "There are about 36,000 automotive deaths per [year], as compared to 36 so far this year for C19."

The message is consistent with a tweet Musk posted on March 6 that "the coronavirus panic is dumb" – a week before Donald Trump announced a ban on travel to the US from the EU that has since been extended to the UK and Ireland. 

Of course, health officials across the globe have highlighted that the point of measures like self-isolation are aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus to vulnerable people, including the elderly and those with medical conditions, who have a much higher chance of dying than the young and healthy. 

Per CNBC, Musk has reportedly told employees that if they're feeling ill "it's always better to stay home and take care of yourself".

However, unlike others in the $400bn space industry, SpaceX appears to be proceeding with business as usual. NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin have put restrictions on business travel and implemented remote-working arrangements. 

NASA last week said on March 8 it had confirmed that an employee at its Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley had tested positive for COVID-19. Another worker at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama has also tested positive for COVID-19. NASA has since implemented 'Stage 3' mandatory telework status at Marshall. 

SEE: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

On Saturday, NASA said all NASA centers had moved to Stage 2, which means "telework is strongly encouraged for employees who can work remotely".

"I've directed employees to take home their laptop computer, power cord, NASA badge, and any other equipment needed to work effectively from an alternate location, as well as essential personal items they may need," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. 

"The workforce is asked to stay in regular contact with supervisors. Travel that is not mission-essential, as defined in the response framework, will be limited agencywide." 

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sunday issued new guidance that all events with more than 50 people should be cancelled or postponed for eight weeks. 

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