EVERETT, Wash. - The Snohomish County Health District is likely cutting its West Nile Virus detection program. And the district's programs, services and staff could be slashed by 30 percent.
The health district has seen a decade of flat funding from the state and 15 years of flat funding from the county, all the while the county gets bigger and costs grow. Now, 30 percent of its employees could lose their jobs and several critical programs could be cut, including one that tracks West Nile.
The health district catches mosquitos to test for the West Nile Virus.
"They get sorted, male/female, speciated and then the culex will be sent to UC Davis for virus testing," said Mike Young, Snohomish County Health District.
The district also tracks dead birds to see if they are victims of West Nile.
"The virus is probably here. It's just probably not had the days of high temperatures in needs to amplify in the mosquito to pass along to humans," said Young.
The program serves as an early warning sytem. If the virus is detected, the county will sound the alarm. But the problem is on the chopping block as the Snohomish County Health District tries to rectify a $4.4 million budget shortfall. Other programs threatned include childhood vaccines, early childhood development and tuberculosis control.
Health officer Dr. Gary Goldbaum was forced to propose the cuts.
"I'm reminded of the book and the movie 'Sophie's Choice' where a woman has to decide which child she is going to allow to die, and that's the kind of decision it feels like to me," said Goldbaum.
To Goldbaum, the cuts could translate into people getting sick and potential lives lost. It feels a bit like turning their backs on the public they're passionate about protecting.
Prompted by public outcry, Snohomish County has scheduled a special public comment period before its next regular meeting on Monday at 9:00 a.m. They want to get feedback and talk options how they can step in and help. It won't be easy - the county is facing a budget shortfall of its own of over $9 million.