Top health officials are warning coronavirus will spread in the US - challenging Trump's claim the virus is contained

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in New Delhi, India, February 25, 2020. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo

Reuters

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump visits India

  • Top health officials said on Tuesday that the spread of the coronavirus is "inevitable" and said the virus could severely disrupt the lives of ordinary Americans.
  • "It's not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses," a top CDC official told reporters.
  • The heightened warnings from top health officials contrasts with those emanating from the White House, which downplayed the threat.
  • "All of this is part of the same message," the health secretary said at a press conference. "This is a very serious public health condition worldwide. We are taking this incredibly serious here in the United States."
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Public health officials warned for the first time on Tuesday that the spread of the novel coronavirus is "inevitable" in the US and said the virus could lead to a "severe" disruption to the everyday lives of Americans.

"Ultimately we expect we will see community spread in the United States," Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters during a conference call. "It's not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses."

Messonnier also said: "We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad."

That assessment was echoed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who told a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday there would likely be additional cases of coronavirus in the US.

He also asked lawmakers for $2.5 billion in additional funding to combat the outbreak. There are 14 cases in the US so far.

The heightened warnings from top health officials contrasted with statements emanating from the White House, which downplayed the threat. President Trump in a tweet on Monday said that the coronavirus was "very much under control" and insisted at a press conference a day later that "the whole situation will start working out."

Larry Kudlow, the national economic adviser, said in a CNBC interview: "We have contained this. I won't say it's airtight, but it's pretty close to airtight."

At a press conference, Azar was asked about the conflicting messaging from the government and attempted to reconcile them, noting it has recently spread abroad but not to the same extent within the US.

"All of this is part of the same message," Azar said, "This is a very serious public health condition worldwide. We are taking this incredibly serious here in the United States. And we are doing the most aggressive containment efforts in modern history to prevent its spread of the United States."

The White House, Centers for Disease Control, and the Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump is facing bipartisan furor over his handling of the coronavirus. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York charged the president on Monday with having "no plan" to deal with the coronavirus and said he's demonstrating "towering and dangerous incompetence."

Some Republican lawmakers like Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana also demanded more information about the government's response.

The coronavirus has now spread to over 26 countries including Iran, South Korea, and Italy, though the epidemic appears to be slowing in China, its point of origin. It has infected 80,000 people and caused over 2,700 deaths, mostly in China.

The recent surge of coronavirus cases overseas sent stocks tumbling for the last two days with the S&P 500 falling 3.4% on Monday, its biggest drop in the last two years.

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