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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Spokane Regional Health District effort to drive out Lutz undermines its mission

Analysis by the authors based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on cases and deaths from COVID-19 since January 2020.  (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Analysis by the authors based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on cases and deaths from COVID-19 since January 2020. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

As university scientists working in public health, we would like to add our voices in support of Spokane 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 chronic disease. In the past nine months, we have also worked extensively with him addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Lutz 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 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 the coronavirus or the indirect economic or social consequences of our effort efforts to control the pandemic.

However, 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 (graphic at right) 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 only 39 per 100,000. This success is even more impressive because the pandemic started much earlier in Washington state than it did in other parts of the U.S.

Given the success of our county’s response, led by Dr. Lutz, it is especially 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 to dismiss Dr. Lutz by the SRHD 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, jeopardizing the health and wellbeing of our community members and putting all of us at higher risk from COVID-19 and prolonging the pandemic in our region.

Dr. Ofer Amram

Dr. Pablo Monsivais

Dr. Solmaz Amiri

Dr. Sterling McPherson

Dr. Michael McDonell

Dr. Ekaterina Burduli

Dr. Hirchak, Katherine

Dr. Crystal Lederhos

Dr. Nicole Rodin

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