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U.S. labor secretary: Shutdowns aren't the 'cure-all' to COVID-19 pandemic

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said shutdowns "are not the cure-all" to address the coronavirus pandemic during a visit Friday to a steel tube manufacturer in Plymouth as COVID-19 cases in Michigan and across the country rise.

"We need to exercise precautions," Scalia told The Detroit News from Atlas Tube, a division of Chicago-based Zekelman Industries. "We need to be conscious of those rising cases, but we can't shut down our economy again. It takes a toll on health. It takes a toll on schoolchildren. It takes a toll on our economy. We have learned to strike a balance. That's what we will continue to do while we also work on the therapeutics and ultimately get the vaccine that will be critical in defeating the virus."

Eugene Scalia

The son of the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia came to Michigan four days ahead of the election just as President Donald Trump told a crowd in Waterford Township that the country was "rounding the corner" against the virus. Meanwhile, the United States and Michigan added a record number of COVID-19 cases on Thursday, and European countries like France and Germany are forcing businesses like restaurants, bars and theaters to close their doors again.

There are other ways, the secretary emphasized, to avoid spreading the virus that do not include halting significant portions of the economy and causing potentially permanent damage.

"The virus is still out there," Scalia said. "We know that. We knew it was quite likely we would see an increase of cases as we headed into flu season. We're seeing that now. People are going to continue to have to keep the precautions we're now familiar with, and that's social distancing. It's hygiene in many contexts. It's wearing masks."

About 22 million Americans, including more than 1 million Michigan residents, lost their jobs in March and April as the shutdowns took place. By the end of September, 11.4 million jobs had returned, and the unemployment rate had fallen below 8% from 14.7% in April.

"We're on a strong rebound," Scalia said. "The recovery that we're in right now is a faster, more robust recovery than virtually anybody was predicting back in March and April."

Adding to that, Scalia championed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The new deal went into effect in June and incentivizes the use of American-made metals for use in automobiles, vehicle parts and other goods.

"Atlas Tube expects the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is going to enable it to offer more jobs and more good-paying jobs by helping to ensure its workers are on a level playing field with workers in other countries that are subject to preferential treatment under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement," Scalia said. "One of the great bipartisan achievements of Donald Trump was to sign a deal that labor unions and businesses all recognized was going to be good for manufacturing growth in this country."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble