Elon Musk is a Public Health Risk
Elon Musk could be helping. Elon Musk is making it worse.
During practically every stage of the coronavirus pandemic, Elon Musk — one of the world’s leading technologists, innovators, and entrepreneurs — has truly run the range on his most half-baked impulses. And each time, they fall somewhere between “annoying” and “outright dangerous on a Trumpian scale.”
The latest, Business Insider reports, was when Musk (who’s not a medical expert) started sharing his opinions on medical masks that contradict recommendations and best practices doled out by (yes) actual medical experts.
Specifically, Musk tweeted that N95 medical masks “are a pain to wear btw. Less onerous masks are better most of the time.”
We’ll try to get & deliver as many as possible. N95 masks are a pain to wear btw. Less onerous masks are better most of the time.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 23, 2020
Musk seems to be referring to surgical masks, which might help a person who’s caught COVID-19 stop their germs from spreading to others. However, BI correctly notes that basic surgical masks do very little to protect the wearer themself. Meanwhile, an N95 mask can stop 95 percent of airborne particles traveling in both directions — and they’re the exact kind of mask that people with actual expertise recommend health workers wear on the job when treating coronavirus patients.
This isn’t the first — but hopefully it’s the last — time that Musk spread misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. But to help everyone keep track, we’ve put together a non-exhaustive highlight reel:
Elon denied it. On March 6, Elon tweeted, verbatim, “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” As of press time, COVID-19 has killed nearly 16,000 globally.
Elon offered to make ventilators. Musk said that he would pivot to manufacturing ventilators if there were a shortage (note: there is). It’s a noble offer, but much like with his boy-sized submarine, anybody who makes ventilators doesn’t believe Musk is serious or capable of doing it.
Elon spread dangerous misinformation. The same day he offered to manufacture ventilators, Musk balanced out his karma by spreading dangerous, pseudoscientific misinformation on Twitter, claiming without evidence that “kids are essentially immune” to COVID-19. While most fatalities occur among the elderly, there are no demographics that are immune to the disease.
It remains an unfortunate, tragic reality that Elon Musk, someone so capable of extraordinary things — like forcing the auto and energy industries to reckon with the disruptive, green visions of Tesla; or accelerating our capabilities for space travel beyond our furthest previous horizons at SpaceX — occasionally caves to his weaker impulses. In those moments, he’s using his megaphone for a reason that must be so dense as to be understood exclusively by Musk alone. For the rest of us, those 11-dimensional chess moves are indistinguishable from garden-variety fuckheaded narcissism.
Even worse is the way a large, often-vocal faction of Elon Musk’s fanbase treats him as an authority on all things scientific. As a result, his words have impact. His ill-advised takes on the coronavirus pandemic risk endangering people who trust his expertise, to say nothing of the rest of us.
Unfortunately for the SpaceX CEO, engineering a pandemic response plan is absolutely not rocket science. For the sake of the global community, Musk should either take his cues from the world’s leading epidemiologists, doctors, and various medical professionals on the frontlines of the war against COVID-19, or take a back seat. This isn’t helping.
Dan Robitzski is a staff writer at Futurism, Elon.