As public health scientists working in Spokane, we would like to add our voices in support of Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz, in the face of inexplicable circumstances.
During his time as health officer, we have collaborated with Dr. Lutz on a number of projects, addressing public health issues affecting our community and the region, including substance use, mental health, access to care and immunization services, and chronic disease. In the past nine months, we have also worked extensively with Dr. Lutz to address the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been at the forefront in guiding our community through an unprecedented global public health crisis. Dr. Lutz has brought his outstanding qualifications and experience in public health to the challenge of protecting our community from COVID-19 while balancing needs to minimize the negative impacts of the public health response. This has been a difficult and thankless job. Inevitably, many in our community have suffered either from the direct impact of COVID-19 or the indirect economic or social consequences from our efforts to control the pandemic.
With Dr. Lutz’s leadership, Spokane has fared better than similar counties across the nation and the U.S. average overall. Our analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (attached here online) shows that on average, Spokane County COVID-19 cumulative case rates (a measure of disease spread) were 1,861 per 100,000 people, while similar U.S. counties (based on population density and level of urbanization) had an average rate of 2,663 per 100,000 people. The same trend was observed for deaths, where counties similar to Spokane had an average death rate of 52 per 100,000 while Spokane County had a death rate of 39 per 10,000. This success is even more impressive because the pandemic started much earlier in Washington than it did in other parts of the U.S.
Given the success of our county’s response, led by Dr. Lutz, it is particularly concerning that the Spokane Regional Health District, an organization whose primary goal is to protect the health of our citizens, has requested his resignation, with no explanation and little transparency. It is even more concerning that this has taken place at a time when COVID-19 cases are spiking sharply in our region and across the nation. The attempt by the SRHD to dismiss Dr. Lutz follows a disturbing pattern in public health agencies nationwide during the pandemic. To date, nearly 50 public health leaders across the nation have been fired or forced to resign, many in cases where they had advocated for better protection for the community.
The SRHD’s mission is to “protect, improve and promote the health and well-being of all people through evidence-based practices.” Our analysis indicates strong evidence to the effectiveness of Dr. Lutz’s response to the pandemic. The SRHD’s effort to drive out Dr. Lutz undermines their critical mission, jeopardizes the health and well-being of our community members and puts all of us at higher risk from COVID-19 and a prolonged pandemic in our region.
Dr. Ofer Amram
Dr. Pablo Monsivais
Dr. Solmaz Amiri
Dr. Sterling M. McPherson
Dr. Michael G. McDonell
Dr. Ekaterina Burduli
Dr. Katherine Hirchak
Dr. Crystal Lederhos Smith
Dr. Nicole Rodin
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