As President Donald Trump pushes for an end to the nationwide social distancing practices that health professionals say are essential to saving lives during the coronavirus outbreak, incredibly wealthy Americans are eager to get employees back to work ― and some say they’re OK with people dying if that’s what it takes.
A number of the country’s richest businesspeople spoke frankly about the matter for a Bloomberg story published Wednesday. Dick Kovacevich, who ran Wells Fargo until 2007, said he wants healthy people under age 55 to return to work in late April if the outbreak is contained enough.
“We’ll gradually bring those people back and see what happens. Some of them will get sick, some may even die, I don’t know,” he said. “Do you want to suffer more economically or take some risk that you’ll get flu-like symptoms and a flu-like experience? Do you want to take an economic risk or a health risk? You get to choose.”
That’s a false choice, ethicists and economists have pointed out. Keeping businesses closed across the U.S. on the advice of scientists and health professionals will do economic damage. But rushing people back to work ― thereby prolonging the outbreak, straining the hospital system and adding to the death count from the virus ― would also be disastrous for the economy. Moreover, testing still isn’t available enough in the U.S. to determine who doesn’t have COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and so determine who could theoretically return to work.
But Tom Golisano, the founder and chairman of the payroll processor Paychex Inc., thinks he can prove that wrong ― dead workers be damned.
“The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more people,” he told Bloomberg, saying he expected businesses would have to fold. He wants states that haven’t been hit hard by the virus to return to normalcy.
“You’re picking the better of two evils,” he said. “You have to weigh the pros and cons.”
Forbes estimates Golisano’s net worth to be $3 billion.
Conservative pundits are beating the same drum. Radio and TV host Glenn Beck, whose Forbes-estimated net worth in 2014 was $90 million, said this week that people may have to get sick or die for the sake of economic prosperity.
“I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working,” Beck, 56, said on his show “The Blaze” Tuesday. “Even if we all get sick, I’d rather die than kill the country.”
Billionaire Tilman Fertitta, the magnate of a casino, hotel and restaurant empire, has also told Bloomberg that people need to get back to work soon.
“I think what we are doing with the shutdown is good but in a few weeks people will need to be around people,” he said Tuesday. “Otherwise you are going to go into an economic crisis that is going to take us years to dig ourselves out of.”
Fertitta, whose net worth Forbes estimates to be $4.4 billion, temporarily laid off 40,000 of his employees this week.
Lloyd Blankfein, the billionaire who ran Goldman Sachs until 2018, took his grievances to Twitter on Sunday.
“Extreme measures to flatten the virus ‘curve’ is sensible-for a time-to stretch out the strain on health infrastructure,” he wrote. “But crushing the economy, jobs and morale is also a health issue-and beyond. Within a very few weeks let those with a lower risk to the disease return to work.”
Trump has signaled that he’d like social distancing efforts to lift as soon as possible, despite public health experts urging him not to rush those plans.
His focus has been on returning to business as usual by Easter, which falls on April 12. During a Tuesday press conference, Trump said it would be a “beautiful timeline” to have it done by then, because of the day’s religious significance.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pushed back on that, saying at the same press conference that “you can look at a date, but you’ve got to be very flexible on a literally day-by-day, week-by-week basis.”
Public health experts have indicated social distancing measures may need to go on for months in order to avoid overwhelming the nation’s hospitals with COVID-19 cases.
As of Wednesday, more than 20,000 people have died of the coronavirus worldwide, with more than 900 of those deaths occurring in the U.S.