Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Says US Can't Shut Down Economy Despite Coronavirus Second Wave Fears

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin doesn't consider shutting down the U.S. economy for a second time to combat the spread of COVID-19 a viable option, he told CNBC Thursday. As the country's reopening has been met with a subsequent spike in coronavirus cases, Mnuchin maintained that the initial pandemic response won't work for the economy a second time around.

"We can’t shut down the economy again. I think we’ve learned that if you shut down the economy, you’re going to create more damage," Mnuchin said in an interview on Squawk on the Street with CNBC’s Jim Cramer. "And not just economic damage, but there are other areas and we’ve talked about this: medical problems and everything else that get put on hold."

Mnuchin added he thought it was "very prudent" the way President Donald Trump handled the crisis but said the government had "learned a lot" throughout. As CNBC noted, the spike in cases in nearly half the U.S. states has already affected the market as investors brace for a second wave of closures, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average recording an 800 point slide Thursday morning and the S&P 500 reporting a 2.6 percent loss.

Mnuchin said he wouldn't shy away from returning Congress to request additional fiscal resources to help stimulate the economy: "We have the Fed program, we have Main Street [lending program], which is going to be now up and running, and we’re prepared to go back to Congress for more money to support the American worker," he said.

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He said that his "number one" job would be to get people back to work amid the current 13.3 percent unemployment rate, down from 14.7 percent last month. After the $2 trillion CARES Act was passed in March as an attempt to address the economic fallout from the pandemic, House Democrats passed a $3.5 trillion stimulus bill last month known as the HEROES Act. If passed by Senate Republicans, the act would extend jobless benefits through the end of 2020 as well as providing economic relief for cities and states that have seen a marked drop in tax revenues.

As Senate Republicans continue to delay their ruling on the next stimulus package, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned in a letter to Vox that delays will disproportionately hurt black Americans, as communities of color have been hit harder by COVID-19 fatalities and business closures in recent months.