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Billionaires, Executives Push to Rescind Social Distancing to Save Profits

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of billionaires, corporate executives and conservative commentators has been urging the rollback of social distancing recommendations, despite public health warnings, a new Public Citizen report documents. In clamoring for a return to economic “normalcy,” the group ignores both the devastating public health consequences of its recommendations and the impossibility of returning to normalcy while the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

Public health experts have made it clear that by adhering to social distancing recommendations and requirements, Americans will prevent the crisis from becoming a catastrophe. One study warns that insufficient action could result in the deaths of 2.2 million Americans from the virus.

However, after a mid-March meeting with Wall Street executives, President Donald Trump held a press conference to announce he intended to push for a hastened end to the social distancing measures. Since then, a number of big business executives and conservative media joined the call, forcing the government’s top public health experts to intervene to postpone Trump’s rushed coronavirus deadline.

For example, Lloyd Blankfein, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, said “extreme” measures to curb the pandemic would “crush” the “economy, jobs and morale” and urged that lower-risk people return to work soon. Tilman Fertitta, a casino owner and proprietor of the Houston Rockets, has complained that his companies are “doing basically no business” and wants authorities to reopen businesses by mid-April.

Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by Charles Koch, the chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, also has pushed back against governors who have ordered the closures of nonessential businesses. Dick Kovacevich, former CEO and chairman of Wells Fargo, said regarding workers under 55, “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.”

Glenn Beck, a former Fox News host, has said, those “of us who are over 50 [should go in to work and] keep this economy going and working, even if we all get sick, I would rather die than kill the country.”

“As usual, Trump is inclined to rely on the advice of corporate executives and billionaires over public health experts. In this coronavirus crisis, listening to that advice could literally lead to millions of deaths,” said Rick Claypool, a Public Citizen research director and author of the report. “Thankfully, Trump has backed off his pledge to ‘reopen America’ by Easter. But it’s still a scandal that the billionaires’ advice was taken so seriously that the nation’s top public health experts had to force a course correction to avert that catastrophe.”

Read what other billionaires, executives and conservatives said about social distancing here.