Clusters of infection are likely in American communities, health officials said. Some lawmakers questioned whether the nation is prepared.
Federal health officials starkly warned on Tuesday that the new coronavirus will almost certainly spread in the United States, and that hospitals, businesses and schools should begin making preparations.
“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a news briefing.
She said that cities and towns should plan for “social distancing measures,” like dividing school classes into smaller groups of students or closing schools altogether. Meetings and conferences may have to be canceled, she said. Businesses should arrange for employees to work from home.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare, in the expectation that this could be bad,” Dr. Messonnier said.
Shortly after the news conference, stock markets plummeted for the second day as investors dumped stocks and turned to the safety of government bonds. The S&P 500 fell by more than 3 percent, following a 3.4 percent slide on Monday — the worst day for the American markets since February 2018.
In contrast to his own health officials, President Trump, traveling in India, played down the threat, saying, “You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country.”