HHS Secretary Azar Warns Coronavirus Risk Could 'Change Quickly,' Says 'Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best'

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar told reporters during a Monday press conference that Americans should "prepare for the worst but hope for the best" during the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

Six patients in the U.S. have died as a result of coronavirus. Four of those deaths, which were announced Monday, occurred in Washington state.

"The degree of risk has the potential to change quickly," Azar said, "especially if we see the sustained spread of the disease around the world which could qualify this disease as a pandemic."

"As we have emphasized for some time now, we all need to prepare for the potential need," Azar added. "Prepare for the worst, hope for the best."

Azar also told reporters the "risk of exposure to people with identified cases can be high."

Vice President Mike Pence, who's leading the White House coronavirus task force said, "The risk to the American people for the coronavirus remains low."

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Current statistics list 84 active cases of coronavirus in the U.S with seven of those cases classified as serious or critical.

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Secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department Alexander Azar said the risk of coronavirus to U.S. citizens "has the potential to change quickly" during a news conference Monday. Tasos Katopodis/Getty

President Trump expanded the nation's travel ban over the weekend, barring "any foreign national who has visited Iran within the last 14 days" from entering the country.

"Additionally, we are currently working on exit screening from South Korea, Italy and other European Nations as needed," Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller told CNN on Sunday.

In a Sunday tweet, Trump referred to a New York Post poll to tout U.S. confidence in his administration's coronavirus plan.

"A Poll in today's New York Post says that 77% of 'U.S. adults have confidence in their government's ability to handle the Coronavirus (Number One), compared to other health threats,'" Trump wrote. "64% for Zika, 58% for Ebola. Others way down on list. Our professionals are doing a great job!"

Trump's response to the coronavirus outbreak has been criticized by Democrats. In a recent interview, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders condemned Trump for holding campaign rallies amid the outbreak.

"In the midst of this coronavirus, a real threat to our country and the world, all over the world governments are trying to figure out how they can deal with this crisis, you know where Donald Trump was the other day?" Sanders said on ABC news program This Week on Sunday. "He was in South Carolina trying to undermine the Democratic party."

"How pathetic is it that in the midst of an international health crisis, you've got a president running into South Carolina trying to steal some media attention away from Democrats?" Sanders added.

Former Vice President Joe Biden also criticized the president's plan on This Week. "This is incompetence on the part of the president of the United States at the expense of the country and the world," Biden said.

Over 90,000 positive coronavirus cases have been reported worldwide, as have 3,087 deaths attributable to the disease.

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Spread of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. as of March 2. Statista