VAN HORN, Texas -- Blue Origin, the rocket company owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, is planning to have workers travel across country from coronavirus-plagued Washington State to a west Texas area that has yet to have any confirmed cases.
The company's plan is to do additional launch testing of a space tourism rocket in the small community of Van Horn in Culberson County, which is two counties to the east of El Paso and is also where Blue Origin's test launch facility is located.
Reports published by The Verge and Business Insider quote Blue Origin employees at its Washington state headquarters as saying they've been told to prepare to travel to Van Horn despite their concerns about spreading the virus. Already, several Blue Origin employees have tested positive for the virus, according to CNBC.
Kent, Washington - where Blue Origin is headquartered - was at the center of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak and recorded the first virus deaths in the nation. Washington state currently has over 7,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 300 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Culberson County, Texas, on the other hand, has yet to record a single virus case, according to that same Johns Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged avoiding travel to slow the spread of the virus even as Blue Origin apparently plans for employee trips to conduct more test launches in Van Horn for its' New Shepard rocket - which is designed to take wealthy passengers into space.
Blue Origin's CEO told CNBC that he is “minimizing the number of people” needed to travel to the Van Horn facility and hasn't yet finalized a date for New Shepard’s next launch.
While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has mandated a two-week self-quarantine for anyone traveling into the state, Blue Origin employees would reportedly be exempt from that order because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security considers their rocket engine tests to be "essential" work.
Whenever they finally do travel to Van Horn, the Washington state employees have apparently been told by the company to keep a low profile.
But the community of Van Horn's events coordinator has said she wishes they wouldn't come at all. “Right now really is not the time for them to be doing that,” Brenda Hinojos told The Verge. If someone does becomes sick, she noted that the town only has a small medical clinic and sends seriously ill patients to hospitals in either El Paso or Odessa.