They also came as a Senate panel announced that four administration officials who had been set to testify in person on the pandemic this week will instead do so via videoconference because of their proximity to two White House staff members who recently tested positive. One of those staffers is an aide to Vice President Pence, but a spokesman said Sunday that Pence plans to be at the White House on Monday.
At a time when governors are grappling with how and when to safely reopen their states, the comments by Hassett and Mnuchin underscore that the country is far from snapping back to normal and that further economic pain is probably still to come.
In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Hassett said that he thinks the unemployment rate will rise to “north of 20 percent” in the next month, up from 14.7 percent reported Thursday.
“To get unemployment rates like the ones that we’re about to see . . . which I think will climb up towards 20 percent by next month, you have to really go back to the Great Depression to see that,” Hassett told host Margaret Brennan.
He added that “nobody knows” when those who have lost their jobs will be able to go back to work, clarifying a statement he made upon the release of Friday’s jobs report that “almost everybody” who has accounted for the recent rise in unemployment “said they expect to go back to work in six months.”
Hassett’s acknowledgment of the country’s dire economic straits was echoed by Mnuchin, who said on “Fox News Sunday” that he expects the second quarter of this year to be even worse than the first.
“The reported numbers are probably going to get worse before they get better,” Mnuchin told host Chris Wallace, later adding: “I think you’re going to have a very, very bad second quarter.”
When asked by Wallace whether the country’s unemployment rate was “close to 25 percent at this point, which is Great Depression neighborhood,” Mnuchin said, “Chris, we could be.”
According to Friday’s jobs report, the U.S. economy shed 20.5 million jobs in April, wiping out a decade of employment gains in a single month as businesses across the country shut down or curtailed operations in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The job market’s historic plunge was far worse than what the nation experienced during the 2008 financial crisis. No industry has been spared, even white-collar jobs in government and business services thought to be relatively safe.
Still, Mnuchin on Sunday expressed confidence in the fundamentals of the economy. He argued that the job market should begin to right itself by September as he echoed Trump’s calls for a phased reopening of the economy. This economic crisis “is no fault of American business, it is no fault of American workers, it is the fault of a virus,” Mnuchin said.
Meanwhile, all four Trump administration officials who had been scheduled to testify Tuesday at a Senate committee hearing on the coronavirus pandemic will now be appearing via videoconference, the panel’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), said Sunday.
The officials include Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Brett Giroir, the Health and Human Services assistant secretary for health who is in charge of coronavirus testing.
“After consulting with Dr. Fauci, and in an abundance of caution for our witnesses, senators, and the staff, all four Administration witnesses will appear by videoconference due to these unusual circumstances,” Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said in a statement.
Alexander himself will videoconference in, his office said Sunday, after one of his staff members tested positive for the coronavirus. Alexander tested negative Thursday and does not have symptoms, David Cleary, his chief of staff, said in a statement. But he will still self-quarantine in Tennessee for 14 days, the virus’s approximate incubation period, rather than return to Washington.
The announcements came after two confirmed coronavirus cases within the president’s orbit were revealed in recent days. On Thursday, the White House acknowledged a positive test result for one of Trump’s personal valets, the military staff members who sometimes serve meals and look after the personal needs of the president.
The next day, several people familiar with the situation confirmed that Katie Miller, press secretary for Vice President Pence, had tested positive.
Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for Pence, said the vice president plans to be at the White House on Monday, shooting down reports Sunday that he planned to self-isolate.
“Vice President Pence will continue to follow the advice of the White House Medical Unit and is not in quarantine,” O’Malley said in a statement. “Additionally, Vice President Pence has tested negative every single day and plans to be at the White House tomorrow.”
But some senior members of the pandemic task force are self-quarantining while others plan to go to work, and several administration officials have said that the White House is delivering mixed messages on what measures they should take.
In an interview Sunday, Fauci said he was on the other side of the Situation Room from one of the confirmed cases for about an hour Friday, describing the distance as “well beyond six feet.” After a review of the exposures of people in the room, the CDC determined he had “a low-risk degree of contact” with the person, Fauci said. He declined to identify the person.
Fauci said he plans to wear a mask at all times in public but will not completely isolate himself because he needs to attend meetings at the White House and work at the National Institutes of Health. He will be tested anytime he goes to the White House, he said.
At home, where he lives with his wife, or at NIH, where he is alone, Fauci said he will not wear a mask. He declined to comment on the potential exposures of Pence, Redfield or Hahn.
Hassett on Sunday acknowledged that it’s “scary” to go to work in light of the pandemic.
“The fact is that I practice aggressive social distancing,” he said on CBS. “I’ll wear a mask when I feel it’s necessary. It is scary to go to work. . . . But, you know, it’s the time when people have to step up and serve their country.”
People directly exposed to someone with the coronavirus have been generally advised to isolate themselves for 14 days, the approximate incubation period of the pathogen. If symptoms do not develop within that period, they are unlikely to do so, although the precaution is not foolproof.
Even daily testing is not a guarantee that infection has not occurred because no medical test — of any kind — is 100 percent accurate. False negative results can occur, depending on the amount of virus in a patient’s blood and the method used, among other factors.
The coronavirus is particularly difficult because people can spread it to others when they are asymptomatic — when they are not showing outward symptoms — as well as when they are pre-symptomatic — before they develop symptoms.
Except for N95 masks, which filter out 95 percent of all airborne particles, masks are worn to protect other people from the mask-wearer, by limiting the spread of respiratory droplets produced by the nose and mouth. Cloth masks and surgical masks do not protect the wearer from droplets produced by others.
In China, officials on Sunday raised the coronavirus risk level to high in the northeastern province of Jilin after 11 new cases were confirmed in the city of Shulan, Reuters reported. All of the new cases were linked to a woman who tested positive for the virus on May 7.
Three other cases were confirmed in mainland China in the past day, including one in Wuhan, the first new case confirmed in several weeks in the original epicenter of the outbreak.
Trump, meanwhile, was out of public view on Sunday, although he had one of the busiest days on Twitter of his presidency. According to Factba.se, a data analytics company that tracks Trump’s public remarks, the president had sent 90 tweets or retweets as of 3 p.m. Most of them were aimed at his political opponents, although he did take time shortly after 8 a.m. to tweet, “HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!”
Philip Rucker, Anne Gearan, Seung Min Kim, Siobhán O’Grady, Hannah Knowles and Heather Long contributed to this report.