Nearly 80,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 as of Saturday, with over 1.35m confirmed cases of the disease. Health experts have warned that reopening businesses too early could lead to another spike in cases and put the economy back to square one.
But Mr Mnuchin warned on Sunday that if the US does not reopen businesses soon, even despite the public health risks, there will be “permanent” ramifications for the economy.
“I think there’s a considerable risk of not reopening. You’re talking about what would be permanent economic damage to the American public,” Mr Mnuchin said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday.
“We’re going to reopen in a very thoughtful way that gets people back to work safely, that has them social distance,” Mr Mnuchin said.
“People will be able to go into stores,” he said, adding that “some of them will have reservations.”
Mr Mnuchin has been Donald Trump’s point man negotiating the federal government’s coronavirus response with Congress, as he is one of the few advisers for Mr Trump whom Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to get along with well enough to work out deals.
The federal government has already spent roughly $2.7trn over the course of four bills to mitigate the health crisis.
Meanwhile, the immediate economic prospectus does not look good, another White House official indicated on the Sunday talk show circuit, highlighting soaring unemployment claims since March.
“Just looking at the flow of initial claims, it looks like we’re probably going to get close to 20 percent in the next report,” White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said in an interview with CNN.
The US could reach that 20 percent mark in May or June, Mr Hassett suggested.
In April, the unemployment rate shot to nearly 15 per cent from its steady March rate of 4.4 per cent, the Bureau of Labour Statistics reported last week.
Nearly 21m jobs have disappeared in April, by which time most states had adopted social distancing measures as policy.
But Mr Mnuchin suggested on Sunday that the economic numbers are down not due to some systemic issue, but because the economy had been “shut down.”
“I see the glass as half full and not half empty,” he said. “Yes, there are issues, but we’re working through those issues. The [White House Coronavirus Task Force] is working through those issues when we see them. The task force is figuring out how to fix them,” he said.