Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, took a few moments at the start of his Wednesday briefing to make some observations about celebrating the holidays during a pandemic.

Before sharing what he knew about the fast-spreading omicron variant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, the status of the state’s hospital capacity and efforts to vaccinate more people, Shah spoke about how our attitudes toward this disease could fit with the spirit of the season – a time of gratitude and grace.

We couldn’t agree more. Both qualities are in short supply this year, and the need is great.

Our gratitude, Shah said, is deserved by so many people, starting with health care workers, who have been fighting on the front lines of a crisis that keeps changing.

“They do this in a variety of settings,” Shah said. “Health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes, EMS stations, home care workers, hospice workers, every sector of the health care system has played a role in our response to COVID-19.”

Shah continued: “The work they do matters, perhaps more than ever before. And they do it over this holiday season because the disease doesn’t take a break.”


These workers deserve our thanks. “And if you know one – and you must – give them a high-five and thank them for what they have done throughout the pandemic.”

To the list of the deserving, Shah added public health workers – from community outreach workers to lab technicians – as well as volunteers who staff vaccination clinics and other community efforts, and members of the Maine National Guard who have been serving a role since the beginning of the pandemic, which has only expanded.

At the same time that he called attention to the people around us who should be thanked, he reminded us about those who need our generosity – the people in our lives, our friends, families, coworkers and neighbors who may be evaluating the risk of the pandemic in ways we don’t understand.

“These days it seems, when it comes to COVID, each of us feels like we are on an island,” Shah said. “Everyone who is taking COVID more seriously than you is an overreactionary worrywart. And everyone who is taking COVID less seriously than you, it’s easy to cast them as someone who doesn’t get it, someone who is denying science.”

But neither of those extremes is right.

“What is true is that everyone approaches COVID differently through their own lens, a lens that reflects and refracts their own health status, their family’s health, whether they’ve been vaccinated as well as a host of other factors,” Shah said. “No two people right now will think of COVID and their own risk in the same way. And that means that no two people will take the exact same set of steps, especially as we go into the holiday season.”


This can be frustrating and confusing and has already caused conflict within families, workplaces and communities. But Dr. Shah’s prescription is to meet these differences with generosity instead of anger.

“Recognize that they are coming at this world, a messy, bewildering world, with a different set of thoughts and values than you may be,” he said. “It can be frustrating, but it’s also a time where grace will get us much further than will irritation.”

This is not exactly the kind of advice we expect to get from a doctor, but it struck the right tone at a time when so much of the news we have been hearing is bad.

After nearly two years of uncertainty and disappointment, we have learned not to see this pandemic as a transitory phenomenon that will be over sometime soon.

But rather than settle into despair, we can offer our grace to the people in our lives who need it, and our thanks to those who have been giving so much to protect us from a disease that consistently and stubbornly surprises.

Among those to whom we offer our thanks are the people at the Maine CDC, whose work has never been more demanding or important, and their director, Dr. Nirav Shah.

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