In a briefing to the media on Tuesday, officials from the centres for disease control and other health experts, said communities in the US should start planning for “social distancing measures”.
“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,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the national centre for immunisation and respiratory diseases.
But in his own press conference on Wednesday, Mr Trump appeared to play down such certainty, while insisting his government was ready for whatever came.
“I don’t think it’s inevitable. I don’t think it’s inevitable because we’re doing a really job at the borders and checking people coming in,” he said.
"I think it has a chance that it could get worse. There is a chance you can get fairly substantially worse. But nothing's inevitable."
“Wash your hands, stay clean, you don’t have to necessarily grab every handrail unless you have to.
Mr Trump went on to dismiss concerns over the risk the virus poses to the public.
“View this the same as the flu,” he said: “When somebody sneezes, I mean, I try and bail out as much as possible when they’re sneezing.”
Turning to one of the health experts stood behind him, Mr Trump added: “I really think, doc, you want to treat this like you treat the flu, and, you know, it’s going to be fine.”
The mortality rate for coronavirus is around 2 per cent – for regular flu it is closer to 0.1 per cent.
Flanked by vice president Mike Pence, who he has appointed to head the government’s response to the disease, and other officials, Mr Trump said: “The risk to the American people remains very low.”
He added: “We’re ready to adapt and we’re ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads. It probably will, it possibly will. It could be at a very small level, or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens we’re totally prepared.”
There are currently 15 cases of coronavirus detected among individuals inside the United States. In addition, 40 American passengers brought back from a cruise ship in Japan also tested positive for the virus.
The administration has proposed $2.5bn in additional funding to address the coronavirus, a sum politicians from both parties have said may be insufficient.
On Wednesday, public health officials warned Americans to prepare for more coronavirus cases and New York City announced plans to provide up to 1,200 hospital beds if needed stock markets fell for the fifth consecutive day.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the head of the national institute of allergy and infections diseases, said that while the virus was contained in the United States, Americans must prepare for a potential outbreak as transmissions spread outside of China.
“If we have a pandemic, then almost certainly we are going to get impacted,” he told CNN.
Additional reporting by agencies
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