I admit it. I have been living in denial.

But as we all know, avoiding a thing doesn’t actually make it go away. Whether I choose to accept it or not, Dr. Nirav Shah is leaving us for the Emerald City – Washington, D.C.

When Shah joined the Maine Center for Disease Control as director in June 2019, no one knew there was a global crisis on the horizon. The gig he thought he was taking was to rebuild both the agency and the state’s overall health infrastructure.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at heather@heatherdmartin.com.

It was a big ask even on the face of it. And then…

Less than a year into the herculean task of restructuring the large, inefficient government health agency that used to be our CDC, COVID-19 hit our state. The single largest health crisis of modern history, and Shah was at the helm of the ship.

We were so incredibly fortunate.


Shah met the chaos and panic of the deadly and terrifying global pandemic with staggering knowledge, a wealth of common sense, unending patience and a sense of humor that, well, I don’t even know how to capture it.

This is a man who makes puns. Wonderfully bad puns. Take, for example, the conversation about Maple Sunday. During the height of the “no public events” time, a pleading Mainer tweeted his hopes of this event being allowed to go ahead. The guy really tried to butter him up by leading with a joke and Shah flipped the situation by replying with comments on “waffling” and ending with “The concern is that this event is pancaked between two other events and that raises the risk.” And there it is, the way Shah rolls. Factual information, genuine risk assessment – all wrapped in good-natured humor. He takes the cake.

Then there was the time when fed up (I presume) with armchair scientists doubting medical research and flouting sound public health policy, he brilliantly made satire his tool. He posted a lengthy string of tweets doubting climate science as he taunted the “blizzard hoax of 2022,” rejecting warm clothes because, and I quote, “gloves don’t work! The ‘experts’ say that good gloves help prevent frostbite. That’s nonsense. I know a guy who got frostbite even though he was wearing gloves. #Checkmate”.

This is the brilliance of a smart man, using humor and his quirky self to get a weary, grumpy state to pay attention.

Not surprisingly, people outside of Maine noticed. It was more than once that family members clear across the country called laughing about something he’d said or posted. Not only did he entertain, but the clear science nuggets contained within the jokes were being heard – and understood.

People in high places noticed too and smartly offered Shah the post of second in command at the U.S. CDC.

I mean, selfishly, I hate it. I don’t want Shah to leave us. I don’t want to lose his voice, his jokes, his shining bright intelligence. But I get it. This is good for him. This is good for the nation. So I will shelve my personal regrets and wish him and his family the best.

We are a better, healthier, happier state for having had him here. Thank you, Shah.

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