"As we have emphasized throughout the pandemic, the outlook for the economy is extraordinarily uncertain, and will depend in large part on the success of efforts to keep the virus in check," Powell said. "The recent rise in new COVID-19 cases both here in the United States and abroad is particularly concerning," he said during his press conference following the decision to keep interest rates at record lows.
Powell noted that all Americans can play a role in the nation's response to the pandemic by wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines set by public health officials in order to ensure the economy can fully recover.
“Following the advice of public health professionals to keep appropriate social distances and to wear masks in public will help get the economy back to full strength," Powell stressed. "A full economic recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities."
His warning comes as the country grapples with a new wave of coronavirus cases.
The COVID-19 Tracking Project's latest estimates recorded more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day, with more than 52,000 Americans currently hospitalized. Overall, the United States surpassed 9.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the latest update from Johns Hopkins University.
“It does seem likely that people who have maybe begun to engage in activities that they hadn't — flying, staying in a hotel, going to restaurants, going to bars and things like that—that they may pullback in a situation where suddenly cases are everywhere in your city, your state, your community,” Powell added.
While he believes that "could weigh on economic activity," he noted that the most recent wave of coronavirus cases over the summer, contained largely in the Southern region of the country, had a limited impact on the overall economy.
The Labor Department's latest figures show that a total of about 7.28 million Americans are still continuing to receive unemployment benefits, with about 751,000 workers seeking aid for the week ending Oct. 31, about four times the pre-crisis level. However, it's well below the peak of nearly 7 million in late March, when states first implemented lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Powell's comments also come ahead of the October jobs report, which is predicted to show the U.S. economy added 600,000 jobs last month, down slightly from September's gain of 661,000. Analysts anticipate unemployment will edge lower to 7.6% from 7.9%. According to September's report, there were still roughly 10.7 million more out-of-work Americans than there were in February before the pandemic hit.