When the pandemic first hit, Dr. Anthony Fauci was a comfort to worried Americans for his calm, reasoned approach to explaining COVID-19. So it was no surprise that just a few weeks in, a petition started to nominate the nation's top infectious disease expert for PEOPLE's 2020 Sexiest Man Alive.
But his rise to "America's most trusted doctor," in the words of Stephen Colbert during Fauci's appearance on The Late Show — and the accompanying media attention — came as a surprise to the public health official.
"Well, I certainly want to be trusted," he told Colbert. "[But] I don't necessarily dwell on the attention that I've gotten."
A surprised Colbert asked Fauci if being on the cover of InStyle and nominated for Sexiest Man Alive, "wasn't pleasurable at all?"
"Well, Stephen, briefly, it was sort of an interesting concept," Fauci said. "[But] when you realize how far it is from the truth, being somewhat of a realistic person, I then get back to my job."
While the Sexiest Man Alive title ended up going to Michael B. Jordan, Fauci was named one of the Men of the Year, and in December he was featured as one of the four People of the Year. He told PEOPLE that his newfound fame was "surrealistic and, in some respects, nice and amusing."
"But you can't take that stuff seriously and start to think you're a celebrity," he continued. "When you start to think that, then you get into trouble. I'm a physician. I'm a scientist. And I'm a public health official."
Fauci also spoke with Colbert about the current state of the pandemic.
"Right now, even though the cases are coming down at a very sharp decline, over the past couple of weeks it's started to plateau a bit, and if it plateaus, it's plateauing at an unacceptably high level — about 50-60,000 new infections per day," Fauci said. "And every time we've seen a plateau at that level, there's always been a risk of getting another surge. What we don't want to do is get another surge. We want to keep it coming down."
Fauci urged Americans to continue wearing a mask and social distancing until the numbers continue to go down, and to get vaccinated as soon as they can. And with three available vaccines — from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — he advised getting "the one that was the most readily available."
"All three of them are highly efficacious," he said.
Even after people are vaccinated, though, they should wait to go clubbing, Fauci said after Colbert asked.
"No, you shouldn't hit the clubs until we get the level of virus down so low that there's no threat to hit the clubs."
Still, Fauci said, Americans can know that the pandemic will soon end.
"You can be absolutely certain that this is going to end and we will get back to normal," he said. "The question is when."
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