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Interim Spokane health officer: 'The past is in the rearview mirror'

Dr. Frank Velazquez spoke about his background in the healthcare field and the current status of Spokane area's COVID-19 response.

SPOKANE, Wash — The Spokane Regional Health District had its first public press conference Friday since the firing of Dr. Bob Lutz.

The health district introduced Interim Health Officer Dr. Frank Velazquez

Velazquez spoke about his background in the healthcare field, the current status of Spokane area's COVID-19 response and what the community can do to keep everybody safe.  

"So we do know that right now, we are at a particular period of time of time when, as has been predicted by the team here, the numbers of COVID are going up," Velazquez said.  "And is something that we need to be very diligent as a community. And notice, I say that the community in managing because not just us up to us, we all have responsibility for mitigating and controlling this pandemic."

Velazquez said he believes biggest challenge for the community will be reengaging communication and moving forward.

"The team here as well as I, we're focused on continuing our work, whatever has happened in the past is in the rearview mirror and that's where it needs to be for now," he said. "Because there are processes that are not part of what we need to do every day. So I think, focusing on that, number one, number two, focusing on the team, because the team has been going for very long hours for very many months. And that I will tell you is a physician that worries me a little bit because we can only take so much a human body can only take so much."  

He said he know many people are having pandemic fatigue but now is not the time to falter. 

"We're at a point in time where this is like a marathon, not a sprint," Velazquez said. "We've been going for a long time, but we cannot really be relaxed. Right now is not the time to relax, it is actually the time to be even more compliant with the guidance our team here has been providing for the last many months. And that's going to be a little bit of a challenge because we're all tired."

Velazquez also urged the community to wear mask, social distance and continue to wash their hands.

"I think really doing those simple things that sound boring and repetitive but are very important is the way we're going to get through and that's our biggest challenge right now," he said.

Regular press briefings will start again on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

The board of the Spokane Regional Health District voted to fire health officer Dr. Bob Lutz following a variety of professional misconduct accusations from SRHD Administrator Amelia Clark.

RELATED: New interim health officer for Spokane talks COVID-19 response, healing after Dr. Lutz's firing

Watch the full press conference here

Immediately after the vote to fire Lutz, the board voted unanimously to replace him temporarily with Velazquez.

Most of Velazquez's recent work appears to be in medical consulting and administration, but he is a doctor.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he obtained his M.D. at the Universidad Central del Caribe in Puerto Rico, then later a master's degree in healthcare management from Harvard University.

He was formerly the president and CEO of Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories, a Spokane-based lab company.

Velazquez is entering the job at a critical time as coronavirus cases skyrocket in the county.