The First Three Months

On New Year’s Day 2020, I was zipping up my fleece to head outside when the phone in the kitchen rang. I picked it up to find a reporter on the line. “Dr. Fauci,” he said, “there’s something strange going on in Central China. I’m hearing that a bunch of people have some kind of pneumonia. I’m wondering, have you heard anything?” I thought he was probably referring to influenza, or maybe a return of SARS, which in 2002 and 2003 had infected about 8,000 people and killed more than 750. SARS had been bad, particularly in Hong Kong, but it could have been much, much worse.

A reporter calling me at home on a holiday about a possible disease outbreak was concerning, but not that unusual. The press sometimes had better, or at least faster, ground-level sources than I did as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and reporters were often the first to pick up on a new disease or situation. I told the reporter that I hadn’t heard anything, but that we would monitor the situation.

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