Thank You, Dr. Nirav Shah

January 20, 2023

Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills, and thank you for listening.

Well, last week, I shared the bittersweet news that Dr. Nirav Shah will soon leave his post at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to take on a major new national assignment.

In March, Dr. Shah will assume the role of Principal Deputy Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he will be second in command – second in charge – under Director Rochelle Walensky.

While I’m saddened that we are losing Dr. Shah at the Maine CDC, I take comfort – as all Maine people should – in knowing that the United States CDC, and the American people at large, will become the beneficiaries of his wisdom and leadership.

You know, four years ago, I asked Dr. Shah, under the leadership of Commissioner Lambrew, to undertake the important work of rebuilding the Maine CDC after the previous administration gutted it, leaving Maine people vulnerable in the event of a public health crisis. And fortunately, Dr. Shah hit the ground running, working aggressively to rebuild Maine’s public health infrastructure. As he embarked on his work, none of us could have known that we would soon be faced with the biggest public health challenge in a generation.

But during the darkest and most uncertain days of the pandemic, Dr. Shah was not only a trusted advisor and friend to me – but a trusted advisor and friend to the people of Maine. Think about it. What CDC Director has a chocolate bar named after him? What CDC Director in this country has his own “Fans of Dr. Shah” website – organized by people who just loved to hear him and learn from him.

So, week after week, during his daily briefings, Dr. Shah spoke calmly and directly to the people of Maine. He translated the science that helped keep us safe. He delivered to us the unvarnished truth, as best we knew it, and he answered our questions with compassion, empathy, humor, and a clarity that gave us much-needed hope. And he was a vital part of our COVID Response Team, day after day providing us the most fundamental and deepest research that we could possibly obtain to make the best decisions we could.

And as for the people of Maine, we know when people felt fear and anxiety, he provided humor and compassion. When people felt confusion and felt they were in the dark, he provided straight talk and empathy, and the facts.

I strongly believe that Maine’s nation-leading success in confronting COVID-19 is due in large part to Dr. Shah’s leadership. After all, national experts have said that our health care response in the pandemic was one of the best in the nation. And others have said that our economic recovery was also one of the best in the nation. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Dr. Shah, his work, and the work of people under him at CDC saved the lives of Maine people.

And today, the Maine CDC is much better prepared than it was before for public health challenges that continue to come our way. 

But when it comes to Dr. Shah, our friend, we know that Maine’s loss is our nation’s gain. And we’re thankful for his service, thankful for his willingness to put himself out on the frontlines on the national scene and to become the second in command at the U.S. CDC.

Dr. Shah, on behalf of the 1.3 million people of the state of Maine, I thank you. We raise a Diet Coke to you, listen to our Coldplay songs and our top hits of the Dr. Shah press briefings – and we send our warmest wishes as you prepare to take on this important next assignment.

This is Governor Janet Mills, and thank you for listening.