Tesla Gigafactory tops list of workplaces with most Washoe County coronavirus cases

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The Tesla Gigafactory is the job site with the highest number of Washoe County coronavirus cases since June, according to new data obtained by the Reno Gazette Journal.

Renown, Walmart, the University of Nevada Reno and UPS round out the top five workplaces where coronavirus cases have occurred since June. The largest casinos in Reno and Sparks are also on the list of workplaces where employees have tested positive for the virus, as well as Saint Mary’s Regional Hospital and the VA Hospital. 

The data provided by the Washoe County Health District is the first glimpse into specific worksites with the highest number of coronavirus cases. Prior to providing the numbers, the health district spoke only in generalities, listing private gatherings, holiday parties and nursing homes as places where people were becoming sick with COVID-19.

In June, Gov. Steve Sisolak asked individual counties to begin compiling data on workplace spread, as well as the locations visited by people just prior to becoming sick and by those who were possibly infectious. Sisolak has said he wants to be more targeted in his approach to slowing the spread of the coronavirus rather than issuing sweeping business closure requirements.

More:Sisolak to announce changes to mandated coronavirus restrictions next week

In response to a Reno Gazette Journal request, the health district provided a list of locations and workplaces visited by 10 or more individuals who have come down with the deadly virus.

“This data shows that COVID-19 is still prevalent in our community,” health district spokesman Scott Oxarart said. “People are frequenting places while infectious and are making it possible for future transmission. It’s important to remember that if you’re showing symptoms like fever, shortness of breath, coughing, or even symptoms such as sore throat, headaches, upset stomach, you should stay home and only go out to get a COVID-19 test or receive medical treatment.”

Workplaces with 10 or more Washoe County coronavirus case since June are:

  • Gigafactory: 117
  • Renown: 104
  • Walmart: 41
  • UNR: 32
  • UPS: 27
  • Atlantis: 26
  • Peppermill: 26
  • Grand Sierra Resort: 25
  • Washoe County School District: 25
  • Silver Legacy: 24
  • Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center: 22
  • Walkenhorst: 18
  • World Pack: 18
  • VA Hospital: 17
  • Nugget: 15
  • Sk Food Group: 13
  • Community Health Alliance: 12
  • Arrow Electronics: 11
  • Northern Nevada State Veteran’s Home: 11
  • McDonald’s: 10
  • Reno Orthopedic Clinic: 10
  • Western Village Casino: 10
Machines do an estimated 90 percent of the work in the drive unit manufacturing area of the Tesla Gigafactory outside Reno, Nevada.

Sick people went to grocery stores, churches, gyms

The data also shows places visited by people who may have been infectious with coronavirus, with grocery stores and hospitals topping the list.

Although the data doesn’t include specific addresses, it shows that sick people attended parties, school, UNR and church. Restaurants, casinos and bars are also on the list. 

“The public needs to know that COVID-19 transmission in our community is rampant and safety precautions like face coverings, social distancing and hand washing is proven scientifically to decrease the spread,” Oxarart said. “Just because a business is listed as a location of possible spread doesn’t mean that someone contracted COVID-19 there. We should continue to support local businesses, but remember that wearing a face covering and social distancing protects the people around you at all of the places you visit.” 

The data is culled from contact tracing reports compiled by disease investigators who conduct interviews with people who have tested positive for COVID-19. The information is self-reported and not all individuals agree to speak with investigators, meaning the data does not provide a complete picture of spread in the community.

Locations visited by 10 or more people who may have been infectious are: 

  • Grocery stores: 122
  • Hospital: 91
  • Walmart: 55
  • Party/Gathering: 52
  • School: 44
  • UNR: 35
  • Restaurant: 27
  • Church: 26
  • Casinos: 21
  • Gym: 18
  • Costco: 15
  • Bars: 11

Top workplaces with coronavirus cases

According to the data, 117 people who live in Washoe County and work at the Gigafactory east of Reno have been infected with the coronavirus since June. Of those, 93 were at work while potentially infectious, which is defined as two days before they showed symptoms and 10 days after symptoms began.

The Gigafactory, which is one of the region’s largest employers, is a joint venture between Tesla and Panasonic. 

Of the 117 cases, 72 reported working for Tesla and 45 reported working for Panasonic.

“Panasonic performs rigorous contact tracing to identify and quarantine COVID-19 cases and close personal contacts per CDC guidelines,” said Panasonic spokesman Alberto Canal. “Employees can only return to the workplace when they meet CDC criteria. We follow state guidance including social distancing and facial covering requirements and special cleaning protocols. 

“Panasonic is committed to employee safety and transparency, so we share with employees regular COVID-19 updates, reminders, and important information to help keep employees informed and safe.”

Tesla representatives declined to acknowledge a request for comment.

 How Tesla avoided a full OSHA inspection:Ignoring search warrants and pulling strings:

Renown is second on the list, with 104 employees infected by the coronavirus, 77 of whom were at work while potentially infectious.

“Healthcare workers who provide direct care to patients with infectious disease are at greater risk for infection than the normal population,” a Renown spokesperson said. “Renown Health follows strict protocol to protect our caregivers. We are following CDC guidelines and collaborating with Washoe County Health Department for contact tracing and risk assessment if circumstances require that.”

Renown and the Washoe County School District conduct COVID-19 testing in Reno on Sept. 26, 2020.

Walmart is listed third, with 41 cases, 24 of whom may have been to work while infectious. The data does not specify which Walmart locations have had workers test positive. The Reno Gazette Journal has reached out for comment.  

UNR, which has been responsible for a recent spike in coronavirus infections among students living in dorms and attending off-campus parties, came in fourth on the list of workplaces with employees who have tested positive. 

Since June, 32 people who work at UNR have tested positive, with 23 having attended work while they may have been infectious.

Outgoing UNR President Marc Johnson told the Reno Gazette Journal the university is working to stem the spread by reducing how often students and professors interact in person. He said many faculty members work exclusively from home and noted that university infections mostly happen off-campus.

“We’re doing our part,” he said.

COVID-19 at Las Vegas resorts:Where have possible exposures happened? Nevada released a list.

UPS was fifth on the list with 27 infected employees, 20 of whom were at work when they may have been infectious.

A spokesman for UPS said the company has taken several steps to prevent the spread of the virus at its locations, including requiring workers to see a doctor if they are experiencing symptoms and providing 10 days of pay for anyone who is diagnosed or required to quarantine because a household member has become ill.

“The safety and health of our employees is extremely important as we care about each other, our families and the communities where we live and work,” spokesman Matthew O’Connor said.

Anjeanette Damon is the government watchdog reporter for the RGJ. You can reach her at adamon@rgj.com or follow her on Twitter @AnjeanetteDamon. If you care about shining a bright light on decisions made by your elected officials, please consider subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.