Mnuchin says he thinks US businesses could reopen in May

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinCoronavirus guidelines sent to every American cost USPS M The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Unemployment claims now at 41 million with 2.1 million more added to rolls; Topeka mayor says cities don't have enough tests for minorities and homeless communities House Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments MORE said Thursday that he thought the United States could reopen the economy during the month of May. 

“I do,” Mnuchin told CNBC host Jim Cramer in a phone interview on Thursday morning in response to a direct question about whether the country could be “open for business” in the month of May. 

“I think as soon as the president feels comfortable with the medical issues, we are making everything necessary that American companies and American workers can be open for business and that they have the liquidity to operate their business in the interim,” Mnuchin continued.

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Businesses across the country have been closed as a part of social distancing policies to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It has devastated the economy, with another 6.6 million people filing unemployment claims in the last week.

The White House’s guidelines encouraging Americans to stay home and physically distance themselves are in place until April 30, meaning that President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE will face a decision at the end of the month on whether to relax or extend them further.

Mnuchin’s remarks comes as Trump has expressed optimism about a “light at the end of the tunnel” as coronavirus cases peak domestically. Asked whether the country would be reopened by May 1 at a briefing Wednesday evening, Trump wouldn’t definitively say when it would happen but insisted Americans wanted to return to normal life. He also said that he wanted to see businesses reopen.

The count of U.S. cases of COVID-19 exceeded 430,000 as of Thursday morning. The domestic death toll is expected to peak on April 11, according to a model produced by Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington that the White House has been closely tracking.

Top health officials have been cautiously optimistic about the positive impact of social distancing guidelines on keeping the infection curve down. The guidelines recommend Americans avoid public places, travel and in-person gatherings of more than 10 people. Many states have also implemented stricter measures, such as stay-at-home orders and instructions for nonessential businesses to close.

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The measures implemented by states are independent of the federal guidelines, and it would be up to governors whether to relax them.

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Defense: Trump extends deployment of National Guard troops to aid with coronavirus response | Pentagon considers reducing quarantine to 10 days | Lawmakers push for removal of Nazi headstones from VA cemeteries Don't move the COVID-19 goalpost Overnight Health Care: Sewage testing gives clues of coronavirus | White House says Trump would take hydroxychloroquine again | Trump marks 'very sad milestone' of 100K virus deaths MORE, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said Wednesday that he believed the overall number of domestic deaths due to the coronavirus would be less than the original projection of between 100,000 and 200,000.

But relaxing the guidelines could come with risks if done too early, and health experts say it should be done when there is a sustained decline in cases, widespread testing in place and when officials can ensure hospitals will not be overwhelmed.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said later Thursday that it was important to have a national plan to get the economy back up and running as quickly as possible, but also to “avoid a false start where we will partially reopen and that results in a spike in coronavirus cases, and then we have to go back again to square one.”

Trump has said he plans to listen to the advice of medical experts when making a decision relaxing the guidelines to encourage the country, or parts of it, to reopen. But the president has also repeatedly insisted that the country can’t let “the cure be worse than the problem,” signaling his desire to relax the guidelines as he seeks to revive the U.S. economy amid sharp job losses due to the pandemic.

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“I think we can say that we have to be on that down side of that slope and heading to a very strong direction that this thing is gone. We could do it in phases,” Trump said when asked Wednesday what needed to happen in order to reopen the country.

“I think we will be sooner rather than later. But we'll be sitting down with the professionals. We’ll be sitting down with many different people and making a determination. And those meetings will start taking place fairly soon,” the president said.

Nearly 17 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in the last three weeks.

—Updated at 11:25 p.m.