Elon Musk and his brother double down on misleading coronavirus theories

SpaceX founder Elon Musk embraces his brother, Kimbal Musk, after being recognized by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Elon Musk and his brother Kimbal Musk doubled down on misleading coronavirus theories as the United States approaches yet another grim pandemic milestone.

The Tesla CEO questioned positive testing rates for COVID-19 and assumed causes of death as US cases continue to surge, outpacing all other nations and rising to a death toll of more than 127,000. New cases are up 80% in the past week alone.

“There are a lot of C19 false positives messing up the numbers,” Musk tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “Even tests with 5% false positive rate (in *field*, not lab) would show up as ~17 million  fake C19 cases even if there were actually none.”

The refrain is an echo of the billionaire’s complaints from March, when the virus was first spreading in the United States. At the time, he promoted right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe and said officials were misleading the public. And as the virus got worse, plunging the US economy into a recession and resulting in record unemployment, Musk only increased his complaints — especially when he was forced to shutter Tesla’s only US car factory.

“Extremely big difference between died because of or died with,” Musk continued Tuesday. “Also, did the person actually have C19 or did they just have C19 symptoms? It’s almost impossible to die without feeling weakness, shortness of breath or other C19 symptoms, unless you were crushed by a falling piano.”

Data from New York City, previously the US epicenter, on excess deaths and frontline observations from funeral directors and emergency responders in New York City suggest that, if anything, the US has under-counted deaths.

Elon’s brother, a restaurateur who sits on Tesla’s board, also chimed in to once again attack what he and other skeptics have called the “fear machine.” The tweet has since been deleted.

While false positives are a concern for any type of medical testing, a slight shift in either direction from the US current infection rates — even at the levels suggested by Musk — would still leave the country vastly behind other country’s ability to slow the spread. There is overwhelming evidence that shelter-in-place orders, which forced many businesses — including Tesla’s factory — to close, were successful in helping these efforts. Studies have also found that had measures been enacted as little as a week sooner, even more deaths could have been prevented.

Tesla previously fired two workers, the Washington Post reported, for not showing up to work after Musk told employees they could stay home without penalty to avoid contracting COVID-19 like multiple coworkers did after Musk re-opened its California factory, despite health measures it published online. And on Wednesday, the paper reporter two more terminations for similar reasons.

Musk’s theories echo his forceful condemnation of shelter-in-place orders in April, when he called them “fascist” and urged officials to “give people back their goddamn freedom” on a call with investors.

From there, things only got stranger. On Joe Rogan’s podcast in May,Musk coined the term “mind virus” to describe the onset of the pandemic and questioned the coronavirus numbers being reported.

“There’s not enough isolation between countries or regions” online, which could cause a “mind virus” to spread throughout the world, he told Rogan, referring to fear that swept the US ahead of the virus’ full-fledged infection, but did little to slow its advances.

“We need some kind of mind viral immunity,” he continued, to protect against a “wrongheaded idea that goes viral.”

Musk also predicted in March that the US would see “probably close to zero” new COVID-19 cases by the end of April. Since May 1, the US has confirmed at least 1.52 million new cases, according to CDC data.

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