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New King County Health Director settles in as pandemic lingers

A man in a suit and tie smiles for a portrait standing in front of a colorful, abstract painting.
King County
Dr. Faisal Khan was appointed director of public health for Seattle and King County in June 2022.

Dr. Faisal Khan began working as Seattle & King County’s Public Health Director in September. He cameto Seattle after serving as public health director in St. Louis County, Missouri.

Khan has also worked in several countries studying communicable diseases, including HIV, Hepatitis and polio.

Khan spoke with All Things Considered host Emil Moffatt at the end of December and made it clear that we're still the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, not the end. And other respiratory illnesses including the flu and RSV are making things worse this winter.

“We're not out of the woods yet," said Khan. "The influenza season continues strongly, COVID-19 cases are on the rise, although not as rapidly as in past surge. So it will be the first half of 2023 and probably towards the end of April, really, before we get a full sense of the damage that these three viruses have caused together.”

Listen to their conversation above, or read selected quotes below.

Key Takeaways

On how Seattle & King County Health Department compares to others he’s managed or seen around the country.

Seattle and King County, to use a soccer analogy, is the Real Madrid or Barcelona of the public health world. It is a department whose work and whose people and whose mission and focus is held up as exemplary for the rest of the country.

On the pressures of leading that “exemplary” department.

So first of all, I hope I've added some value, but really my job is primarily to take care of the people that take care of the people, so to speak. The greatest challenge that public health has always faced is this inevitable cycle of boom or bust funding. It's either feast or famine.

Even as we deal with the pandemic in a different phase, that federal funding has gone away, which means that we have had to dismantle all the hard work that we've put in. We are not well prepared as a nation for the next public health emergency to knock on our doors. And might I remind everybody, despite their skepticism, the age of the pandemic is upon us.

On where the levels of local funding and state funding stand.

There are severe challenges throughout the next two-year budget cycle. We will have to be very judicious about where we spend our resources and where we invest our resources. Even as the list of public health issues continues to grow.

On where Seattle stands in treating and preventing HIV AIDS.

I'm proud to tell you that we are very well placed. We have a robust network. Having said that, the rebound that we've seen in some STDs that we traditionally have not seen for a long time, syphilis being among them, chlamydia and gonorrhea, among others, is a very worrying sign.

The fact that in 2022, we're still having to talk about congenital syphilis and newborn babies dying of syphilis is a very, very dismaying fact. So we have our work cut out for us in terms of education, the prevention of disease screening, etc.

Emil Moffatt joined KNKX in October 2022 as All Things Considered host/reporter. He came to the Puget Sound area from Atlanta where he covered the state legislature, the 2021 World Series and most recently, business and technology as a reporter for WABE. Contact him at
Freddy Monares has covered politics, housing inequalities and Native American communities for a newspaper and a public radio station in Montana. He grew up in East Los Angeles, California, and moved to Missoula, Montana, in 2015 with the goal of growing in his career.