Chris Spitters, Snohomish County’s chief health officer, to step down

The physician who has been the official voice of the pandemic here says his departure is not work-related.

Dr Chris Spitters during a meeting of the Snohomish Health District board in Everett on March 2, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Dr Chris Spitters during a meeting of the Snohomish Health District board in Everett on March 2, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

EVERETT — The face of Snohomish County’s pandemic response, Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters, will step down next June.

“There is no work-related reason for my choice to resign from the Health Officer position, and I am not leaving for another role,” Spitters said in a statement Monday. “Instead, long-deferred commitments to my wife and family now must take precedent over vocation. They have waited patiently for me on the sidelines of my life for so long.”

Spitters’ association with the Snohomish County Health District goes back to 1994. He was named interim health officer in 2019, when Dr. Mark Beatty was abruptly forced out of the position.

In March 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold in the U.S., Spitters was permanently assigned to the position. The nation’s first reported case was in Snohomish County. Now the coronavirus has killed 822 Snohomish County residents and sickened more than 66,000.

Throughout his tenure, Spitters has steered the county through multiple waves of COVID-19 infections, carrying out Gov. Jay Inslee’s health directives. In early March 2020, he introduced locals to “social distancing,” urging people to avoid group gatherings. This August, he acted days before the governor in reissuing a mask requirement.

Now Spitters joins a wave of public health officials who have chosen to leave the profession. During the pandemic, health leaders in at least nine of Washington’s 39 counties had left their posts, according to one Crosscut report from August.

An Everett family-medicine doctor, Spitters originally started at the district in 1994 as the tuberculosis control officer, communicable disease director and deputy health officer. He left in 1999 for a stint with the state Department of Health. He returned to Snohomish County in 2001 to serve in a tuberculosis consulting role.

Spitters also served in public health roles in Asotin, Island, Klickitat and Yakima counties. He’s been the tuberculosis clinic director for Public Health—Seattle & King County since 2003, and has been Island County’s interim health officer since 2019.

“Chris has been an indispensable part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are thousands of people alive today because of his tireless work and because our response was guided by his expertise and common-sense approach,” said county Executive Dave Somers.

The agency hopes to recruit a replacement in time to start before Spitters’ departure next summer.

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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