WASHINGTON — Some of President Donald Trump's top economic advisers emphasized on Sunday the importance of states getting more businesses and offices open even as the pandemic makes its way to the White House complex, forcing three members of the administration's coronavirus task force into self-quarantine.
The president and governors who will decide when to reopen their states are facing competing pressures. More economic activity and travel will likely lead to more people contracting COVID-19. But tight restrictions on which businesses can operate are causing millions of people to join the ranks of the unemployed. Decisions about how fast to reopen come with a general election less than six months away, and Trump and other incumbents facing the prospects of seeking another term in the midst of a public health and economic crisis.
"If we do this carefully, working with the governors, I don't think there's a considerable risk," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on "Fox News Sunday." "Matter of fact, I think there's a considerable risk of not reopening. You're talking about what would be permanent economic damage to the American public."
Another 3.2 million U.S. workers applied for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total over the last seven weeks to 33.5 million as states restrict activities to slow the spread of the virus. Mnuchin said the jobless numbers "are probably going to get worse before they get better," but he expected the economic numbers to improve in the second half of 2020 and that next year would be a "great year."
Gov. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, announced this past week that his state's bars and restaurants can fully reopen in two weeks, on May 21, with outside dining allowed a few days earlier. Barbershops, hair salons, nail salons and day spas will also reopen this coming Friday.
He said he wished the number of coronavirus cases were going down, but the state needs to come back "very carefully."
"We've got to try to do two things at once and it's, you know, no one is underestimating how difficult this is, but it's something that we have to do," DeWine said on Fox.
The White House dispatched several of its top economic advisers to hit the Sunday talk shows. The appearances came on the heels of three key advisers, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, taking new precautionary steps after coming into contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and has become nationally known for his simple and direct explanations to the public about the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes. Also quarantining are Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Stephen Hahn.
Fauci's institute said that he has tested negative for COVID-19 and will continue to be tested regularly. It added that he is considered at "relatively low risk" based on the degree of his exposure, and that he would be "taking appropriate precautions" to mitigate the risk to personal contacts while still carrying out his duties. While he will stay at home and telework, Fauci will go to the White House if called and take every precaution, the institute said.
Redfield will be "teleworking for the next two weeks" after it was determined he had a "low-risk exposure" to a person at the White House, the CDC said in a statement Saturday evening. The statement said he felt fine and has no symptoms.
Just a few hours earlier, the Food and Drug Administration confirmed that Hahn had come in contact with someone who tested positive and was in self-quarantine for the next two weeks. He also tested negative for the virus.
All three were scheduled to testify before a Senate panel during a Tuesday hearing focused on how to safely return people to work and school. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the panel's Republican chairman, announced Sunday that Fauci will be joining all of the administration's witnesses in testifying by videoconference "in an abundance of caution for our witnesses, senators, and the staff." Alexander also will attend by videoconference from his home state after a member of his staff tested positive, an aide said Sunday.
Statements from the agencies the officials oversee took care not to identify the person they had contact with earlier last week. Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday, making her the second person who works at the White House complex known to test positive for the virus in the past week. White House officials had confirmed Thursday that a member of the military serving as one of Trump's valets had tested positive for COVID-19 a day earlier.
White House adviser Kevin Hassett noted that the vice president's press secretary tested negative one day and positive the next. He appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"And so this is a very, very scary virus. You know, that people are going to go back to work and they're gonna be worried about things," Hassett said. "And it's going to take awhile for things to get back to normal, absolutely."
At the same time, he said some $9 trillion has been injected into the economy through actions taken by Congress, the White House and the Federal Reserve.
"I think that right now we have bought some time with all the money that we've thrown at the economy and we've been using the time to do things like develop treatments, improve our treatments, learn more about social distancing and so on," Hassett said.