President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that a widespread U.S. outbreak of the new respiratory virus sweeping the globe isn't inevitable even as top health authorities at his side warned Americans that more infections are coming.
Shortly after Trump spoke, the government announced a worrisome development: Another person in the U.S. is infected — someone in California who doesn't appear to have the usual risk factors of having traveled abroad or being exposed to another patient.
At a White House news conference, Trump sought to minimize fears as he insisted the U.S. is "very, very ready" for whatever the COVID-19 outbreak brings. Under fire about the government's response, he put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of coordinating the efforts.
"This will end," Trump said of the outbreak. "You don't want to see panic because there's no reason to be panicked."
But standing next to him, the very health officials Trump praised for fighting the new coronavirus stressed that schools, businesses and individuals need to get ready.
"We do expect more cases," said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If the CDC confirms that the latest U.S. case doesn't involve travel or contact with an infected person, it would be a first in this country and a sign that efforts to contain the virus' spread haven't been enough.
"It's possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19," the CDC said in a statement.
More than 81,000 cases of COVID-19, an illness characterized by fever and coughing and in serious cases shortness of breath or pneumonia, have occurred since the new virus emerged in China.
The newest case from California brings the total number infected in the U.S. to 60, most of them evacuated from outbreak zones.
Without a vaccine, CDC's Schuchat advised people to follow "tried and true, not very exciting" but important precautions: Wash your hands, cover your coughs and stay home when you're sick.
A day earlier, another CDC official, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, was even more blunt, telling Americans to get ready for some of the same steps as occurred during the 2009 flu pandemic, such as school closings. "It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen — and how many people in this country will have severe illness," she said.
The National Institutes of Health's top infectious disease chief cautioned a vaccine won't be ready for widespread use for a year or more. But Dr. Anthony Fauci said even if the virus wanes soon, it's "quite conceivable" that it might "come back and recycle next year." By then, he said, "we hope to have a vaccine."
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Zeke Miller, Andrew Taylor and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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