COVID: an “exclamation mark” for his long career in public health

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EVERETT – During a regular COVID-19 briefing last week, Dr Chris Spitters compared his tenure as Snohomish County’s senior health official to a ‘track encounter’. He has been a constant voice for locals seeking coronavirus news, guidance and advice.

Now the finish line is in sight. Spitters will retire next June to spend more time with his family. He will be 58 years old.

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a wave of public health officials leaving the field, but Spitters said the public health emergency likely kept him in the game longer. His jobs bring in $ 226,452 per year.

The 60 and 70 hour work weeks required during the pandemic are nothing new, he said.

“Shoot, I’ve been thinking about (retirement) for decades in a certain sense,” he told the Daily Herald. “… I’ve been going since I was 21. And I am a little tired.

Spitters has held public health positions in several counties in Washington, sometimes filling several part-time positions. Currently, he runs the King County Tuberculosis Clinic and serves as the Island County Acting Health Worker.

The stress of leading Snohomish County through multiple waves of COVID-19 has been an “exclamation point” over a long and demanding career, he said.

Spitters recalled the early days of the pandemic, when authorities expected the emergency to last only a few months. This “layer of denial, or ignorance,” he said, quickly faded. After the first confirmed U.S. case was identified in Snohomish County, authorities originally believed the virus was contained.

“Although we put out that brush fire, there was a lot more of it across the country,” Spitters said. “And when it did, at the end of February, beginning of March, I never felt more stress in my professional life.”

His decision to stay on board for another six months is partly “selfish”, he said. He wants to see the county make more progress against the coronavirus.

“Hopefully what’s here now and possibly to come in the next couple of months is somehow the worst of the COVID-19 experience,” he said. “It certainly won’t be the end.”

This message has been constant over the past few weeks. When the first confirmed case of the omicron variant was identified in the United States earlier this month, Spitters called it a “grim reminder that eliminating COVID is an unlikely scenario.”

This week, the health district announced that the worrying new variant has been found in Snohomish County. More omicron cases are popping up in Washington and the United States

Meanwhile, Snohomish County’s case rates are gradually declining, but not without weekly ups and downs. Its two-week case rate rose to 301 per 100,000 this week, although the number of weekly cases fell from 1,310 to 1,065.

Last week, Spitters said the timing of a recent increase suggested it was the result of Thanksgiving gatherings.

Spitters and County Manager Dave Somers said there were no immediate plans to place county-wide restrictions on places like restaurants and bars.

Vaccine uptake has increased across the county, but that’s mostly for booster doses and third doses, Spitters said. The rest are pediatric doses, while “very few” unvaccinated adults show up for their first dose.

While the future is uncertain, Spitters said the county was in a better position than it was at the start of the pandemic, while little was known about COVID-19, vaccines were not available and testing and contact tracing procedures were not developed. He is convinced that his departure will not leave the county aside.

“I’m just a guy on a great team,” he said.

Anger from some residents at public health guidelines like mask warrants and other restrictions fueled threats against a few staff in the Snohomish Health District, Spitters said, who were brought to the attention of law enforcement. order. But Spitters said he was largely isolated from this.

“I get occasional emails that aren’t too complimentary. But I never felt on the other end of someone’s intention to hurt, ”he said. “Certainly I’ve been on the other end of the frustration, the pain, the demand from people for a different path. But that’s living in a democracy, isn’t it?

In retirement, he expects things to slow down. He will no longer have two cell phones attached to him and he will be able to spend more time with his wife.

“She’s been a great life partner,” Spitters said. “We are the in-laws of each other’s children. I’m just lucky to be with her and lucky that she’s still here after all these years.

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @yawclaudia.


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