Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a news conference at the State House in Augusta, Maine, after it was announced that one person has tested positive for coronavirus in Maine, Thursday, March 12, 2020. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Wash your hands as if you just sliced a bag of jalapeno peppers. Panic is paralyzing, so focus on taking positive steps in your own life. There are ways to prevent an epidemic of loneliness.

Every day, people across Maine have tuned in to listen to updates from Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who is spearheading the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond providing a daily tally of coronavirus, or COVID-19, cases, he speaks in measured tones about what people should be doing day to day, and inserts reminders about everyone’s shared humanity.

Here’s a selection of Shah’s memorable quotes from the past three days.

Social distancing and social connection

— “In times like this I go to one of the luminaries in the public health world, the band Coldplay, and ask myself, and we should be all asking ourselves this: Are we part of the cure, or are we going to be part of the disease? In this situation I ask everyone to be part of the cure by practicing social distancing.” — March 19 briefing

Although social distancing is the recommendation of the Maine CDC, we have to be cautious in order to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19 from becoming an epidemic of loneliness. So while I recommend that everyone socially distance, I also recommend that everyone socially connect in different ways, whether that be through Facetime and other conferencing apps, whether that be calling an old friend you haven’t talked to in a long time, or sitting on your porch and waving at your neighbors. Everyone should still remain socially connected. Even as we introduce a little bit of physical space, that does not mean we need to introduce absolute space.” — March 19 briefing

“The time between when someone is exposed and when they get infected is anywhere from four to six days. So when you’re looking at coronavirus, it’s like watching a live news broadcast that was actually recorded four or six days ago. We are now seeing the effects of exposure from several days ago. As a result of that, that vital incubation period, we have to take steps now before we see that movie play out even greater. That’s why the more aggressive we can be now, the more that curve can be flattened.” — March 19 briefing

— “With respect to outsiders coming in, here’s what I’ll say. I’ve lived in Maine now for nine months, and never have I lived in another part of the world that is as welcoming to those who are from another part of the country, as I’ve been in Maine, and I hope that it stays that way.” — March 19 briefing

What you should do

— “Wash your hands. It’s not just casual handwashing. It’s washing with intensity. The best way I’ve seen this described was to wash your hands as if you have just sliced a bag of jalapeno peppers and now need to take out your contact lenses. … That’s what we know will generate enough mechanical friction to wash the virus away.” — March 17 briefing

— “I try not to think about avoiding touching my face. I try to just think about keeping my hands below my shoulders. I don’t try to think about social isolation. I try to think about finding new and different ways to try to connect with people I haven’t seen in a long time.” — March 17 briefing

The response

— “A concern that has come up across the nation in the past few days is the availability of not just the kits but the other pieces that are necessary in order to undertake testing. In a sense, testing is like baking something. There are a lot of different ingredients. The oven is sort of similar to the machines we’ve got. But there are other ingredients that are necessary. … These are things like the enzymes that are needed to run the tests themselves, as well as the nasal swabs that health-care workers use in order to actually draw the sample. Those supplies, and the supply of them, has been a concern. It is something we are keeping very close tabs on.” — March 18 briefing

— “We now have over 50 Maine CDC staff members who are working in some part on coronavirus. Many of those individuals are doing two jobs. For example our influenza coordinator is an epidemiologist who is now doing two jobs. Her first job is to continue to be our full-time influenza epidemiologist. We are still getting the flu reports out every Tuesday. Her other full-time job is as a disease investigator working with coronavirus. You know, one of the reasons you go into public health is because the work that we do directly impacts the entire population. So in these situations we have called upon our team to rise to this challenge, and I could not be more proud of the work they have done.” — March 17 briefing

— “If someone is at home with coronavirus, we can’t very well ask them to hop in the car or walk across town and go to a clinic or an emergency room and get tested. That defeats the purpose of everything we’ve been working on. So our plan is, if that individual requires repeat testing, a public health nurse wearing appropriate protective equipment could be part of the help for that.” — March 18 briefing

The future

— “Behind every single one of these numbers of cases is a person. Every one of these cases represents someone’s friend, spouse, mother, child, neighbor. … So we continue to ask that we treat them with the humanity that they deserve.” — March 17 briefing

— “We can’t enter a world in which we forego other vital social and medical services only because of the coronavirus. We have to be able to keep both things going.” — March 18 briefing

— “It’s important we manage expectations about what the future may hold. Additional cases in Maine are likely. … My ask is that you take positive steps, as you can, to take control of the situation in your own lives, in your own households, with your own families. Panic is a paralytic. It can prevent you from doing the things that you need to do in order to be prepared. Panic is a paralytic. It can cloud your mind and prompt you to focus on things that are not right now the top priorities, such as making sure you and your families stay healthy, that you practice social distancing and that you prepare to ensure, for example, that you have enough medicine on hand in the event you or your family may need to be quarantined.” — March 17 briefing

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.