Clusters of infection are likely in American communities, health officials said. Some lawmakers questioned whether the nation is prepared.
The coronavirus almost certainly will begin spreading in communities in the United States, and Americans should begin preparations now, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.
“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.
In the event of an outbreak, communities should plan for “social distancing measures,” like dividing school classes into smaller groups of students, closing schools, canceling meetings and conferences, and arranging for employees to work from home.
“We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad,” Dr. Messonnier said.
China’s battle to contain the epidemic has shown signs of success, with a plunge in the rate of new infections. But this positive trend was overshadowed by the sudden appearance of clusters of infections in Iran, South Korea and Italy, underlining the threat of a global pandemic racing out of control.
The emergence of these new hubs underscored the lack of a coordinated global strategy to combat the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 80,000 people in 37 countries, causing at least 2,600 deaths.
“We cannot hermetically seal off the United States to a virus,” Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and humans services, told a Senate panel on Tuesday. “And we need to be realistic about that.”
Stocks plunged for the second day in a row, down nearly 3 percent by Tuesday afternoon, a decline that put the S&P in the red for the year.
As recently as last Wednesday, the index was at a record high. But since then, growing outbreaks in Europe and elsewhere in Asia have raised fears that the virus will continue to be a drag on drag on the global economy.