BY BRETT SAMUELS – 05/26/20 09:46 AM EDT
Former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Monday he believes the U.S. has “overreacted a little bit” to the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that Americans can get back to work sooner rather than later if they observe social distancing and wear masks.
The former congressman and budget chief for the Trump administration cited recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance finding the virus does not spread easily via surfaces to assert the country may have gone too far with restrictions.
“The fact that it’s difficult to get this disease from touching stuff … should sort of reset how we look at this,” Mulvaney said on CNBC. “What it means is that if we are careful about social distancing and putting on masks and so forth, we should be able to go back to work sooner rather than later.”
Mulvaney said he flew on an airplane over the weekend and would be “completely comfortable” sitting in a middle seat if he and both passengers next to him had masks on to limit the odds of transmitting the disease.
“I think we’ve sort of lost perspective on this a little bit, Joe, and we’ve overreacted a little bit,” he told co-host Joe Kernen.
He referenced the 2017-2018 flu season, when roughly 80,000 people in the U.S. died of influenza, to draw a contrast between how the country reacted then to how it has reacted to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 100,000 Americans in roughly three months.
“Not to say that COVID is the ordinary flu, that’s not my point,” Mulvaney said. “But my point is that almost 100,000 people died two years ago from flu and the country didn’t shut down. It’s time to sort of deal with this in the proper perspective, and that’s to allow us to get back to work safely.”
The argument was similar to one President Trump has made previously, and it comes as the White House is urging Americans to reopen businesses and return to work. The virus has forced scores of businesses to shutter, and more than 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment.
Mulvaney spoke with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in his first televised appearance since leaving the White House in March. He was widely criticized for saying at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February that the press was only covering the coronavirus so aggressively in an attempt to “bring down” Trump.
The U.S. leads the world in reported coronavirus cases by far, with more than 1.6 million confirmed infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
Mulvaney has largely remained out of public view since his departure from the White House in March, when he was replaced by Mark Meadows. Mulvaney, who was also the past head of the Office of Management and Budget, was named the ambassador to Northern Ireland.