Asked on by CNN's Brianna Keiler on "State of the Union" if hundreds of thousands could die from coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that "it could happen, and it could be worse."
"Our challenge is to try and make that not happen," continued Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
Fauci emphasized that it's imperative for Americans to recognize the risks of the virus and take actions to prevent its spread if they want to reduce the potential death toll from the pandemic.
"If we go about our daily lives and not worry about everything" then the death toll could be high, he said, adding: "To me that's real impetus to take very seriously the kinds of things" the public should do.
"People sometimes think that I'm overreacting. I like it when people are thinking I'm overreacting because that means we're doing it just right," Fauci said.
The comments from Fauci come as officials continue to urge "social distancing" as a way to slow the spread of the disease. Dozens of national and local events have been canceled or postponed in recent days as companies, organizations and governments try to reduce the number of people congregated in a single area.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines "social distancing" as "remaining out of places where people meet or gather," and "avoiding local public transportation."
As of Sunday morning, there were 2,885 cases of coronavirus in the US and the disease had resulted in at least 60 deaths, according to figures from state and local health agencies, governments and the CDC.
This story has been updated with additional developments.