Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump had accused journalists of making the situation “look as bad as possible” even as government health experts warned that the coronavirus threat in the United States is only beginning. Without offering any details on transmission, Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary, confirmed the new case on Wednesday afternoon, bringing to 60 the total number of infections that have been counted in the United States. Mr. Azar said that health officials were still figuring out how the new person became infected.
The politics of coronavirus shifted drastically on Tuesday when Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the C.D.C.’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters that “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.” She said that hospitals and schools should begin preparing for an outbreak, and that she had even spoken to her own family about “significant disruption of our lives.”
Mr. Trump sought on Wednesday to counter that message with a much less dire one, holding up a Johns Hopkins University study that he said showed the United States as the most prepared country in the world to confront a virus. He said he was “amazed” that tens of thousands of people died from the flu each year, contrasting that number with the several dozen currently infected with coronavirus.
“We’re very, very ready for this, for anything, whether it’s going to be a breakout of larger proportions or whether or not we’re, you know, we’re at that very low level,” Mr. Trump said.
The president, who is a well-known germophobe, urged Americans to be vigilant about covering their coughs and washing their hands, and he told the story of a man who recently came up to him and hugged him.
“I said are you well? He says no,” Mr. Trump said. “He said, ‘I have the worst fever, and the worst flu.’ He’s hugging and kissing me. I said, ‘Excuse me,’ I went and started washing my hands.”
Mr. Trump has been reluctant to give in to what he considers an “alarmist” view about the virus, an administration official said. The president has repeatedly said that, like the flu, the new coronavirus will dissipate with warmer, more humid weather even though officials have warned him that relatively little is known about the virus, and it may not behave as others do.