In 2001, after anthrax was mailed to Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Bush administration tried initially to minimize the threat, but Dr. Fauci was characteristically blunt.
“This is material that is quite formidable, that is infecting people with inhalation anthrax, infecting them in the absence of direct contact,” he said. “You can call it whatever you want to call it with regard to grade and size or weaponized or not weaponized. The fact is, it is acting like a highly efficient bioterrorist agent.”
Previous disease outbreaks have kept him on the lookout for new pathogens, and in January, reports of unexplained pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, set off alarms in his head.
“Even before we knew it was a coronavirus, I said it certainly sounds like a coronavirus-SARS type thing,” he said. “As soon as it was identified, I called a meeting of top-level people and said, ‘Let’s start working on a vaccine right now.’”
He is among the most highly paid federal employees, earning about $400,000 a year, more than the vice president or the chief justice of the Supreme Court. He oversees a 2020 budget of $4.75 billion, which is $769 million less than last year’s after being cut by the Trump administration.
Unflappable though Dr. Fauci may seem, the new coronavirus worries him, especially its spread in the Seattle area and the toll it is taking in a nursing home there. He said he thought it was still possible to stop the disease, but health authorities would have to know where it was to do that, and he said the lack of testing capacity was a huge obstacle.
Test kits sent by the C.D.C. to states were flawed, and it has taken weeks to begin replacing them. And strict regulations from the Food and Drug Administration hampered outside labs’ efforts to begin to do their own tests.