Ex-Wells Fargo CEO Says People Should Return to Work If Coronavirus Is Under Control: 'Some May Even Die, I Don't Know'

The former CEO and chairman of Wells Fargo has called for healthy people under the age of 55 to return to work next month if the COVID-19 outbreak is under control in the U.S. in order to help the economy.

"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," Dick Kovacevich, now an executive at Cisco and Cargill, told Bloomberg.

"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," he added.

With businesses across the country closed and people advised to stay at home if possible, Kovacevich joins a growing chorus of executives worried that the shutdown across the U.S. will do irreparable economic harm.

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View of New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street on March 23, 2020 in New York City. Some executives are calling for people to return to work to save the U.S. economy which has been battered by COVID-19. Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Tom Golisano, the founder and chairman of the payroll processor Paychex Inc., also told Bloomberg businesses will go under and that those living in least-affected states should return to work.

"The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more people," he said, "you're picking the better of two evils. You have to weigh the pros and cons."

Lloyd Blankfein, a former head of Goldman Sachs, tweeted last weekend that "those with a lower risk" should return to work, adding: "Crushing the economy, jobs and morale is also a health issue-and beyond."

His longtime deputy Gary Cohn also tweeted that there was a need "to start discussing the need for a date when the economy can turn back on," otherwise businesses "will assume the worst."

The sentiment chimes with President Donald Trump's concern that he did not want the "cure to be worse than the problem itself." He said this week that he would like to see the economy reopened for Easter and that "our country is not built to shut down."

This week, Texas Lt Gov Dan Patrick sparked outrage on social media, when he told Fox News that older people should return to work for the good of the economy and that "those of us who are 70 plus, we will take care of ourselves but don't sacrifice the country."

His comments on Tucker Carlson Tonight were backed on the same program by the broadcaster and Fox contributor Brit Hume, who said that "it's an entirely reasonable viewpoint" for older people to get back to work if that is what is needed.

But Robert Reich, who was labor secretary for President Bill Clinton, told Bloomberg: "It is absolutely necessary to shut down the economy so that millions of people don't die.

"For the privileged among us to fail to see that and to give the economy precedence over this public health emergency is morally reprehensible."

Health experts warn the outbreak could worsen if the country is reopened too soon.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, told NBC last week: "I think we should be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting."

"I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing" he added.

To help with the economic slump, the Senate voted unanimously late on Wednesday to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package—the biggest in the country's history—in an effort to help workers, businesses and hospitals.

It comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country has climbed to more than 69,000, with over 1,000 deaths as of Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The graph below by Statista shows COVID-19 cases and recoveries as of March 25.

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A graph by Statista showing cases and recoveries from COVID-19 Statista