Trump advisers cite need to stop ‘permanent’ economic toll

WASHINGTON (AP) – Some of United States (US) President Donald Trump’s top economic advisers emphasised 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.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (C) talks with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at the White House. PHOTO: AP

“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 US 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.”

Governor Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, announced this past week that his state’s 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 on 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 Director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr Robert Redfield and 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 on 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 are scheduled to testify before a Senate panel during a hearing today focussed on how to safely return people to work and school. Senator 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 on Sunday.