The Disappointing Debut Of The New County Health Commissioner, Dr. Daniel Kuhles

[JK: Following the publishing of this piece, the story has had additional developments. The story about the “sleepover” had previously received coverage from several television news programs. This evening, Channel 10 news ran a story. Their story reported that Warren County had contacted the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department about the party. Channel 10 contacted Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo who told them that his office “…is now investigating.”]

Our new Saratoga County Public Health Commissioner seems to be following the tradition of our county government in terms of opacity and dubious management. This is deeply troubling for a job in which informing the public is critical to both maintaining credibility in general and effectively implementing programs to control the spread of COVID-19.

An Email Goes Unanswered

On December 18 I wrote to both Human Resources Director Margaret (“Marcy”) McNamara and Public Health Commissioner Daniel Kuhles asking why the county had been having such difficulty in hiring contact tracers.

Ms. McNamara promptly responded with an email saying that she was referring my question to Dr. Kuhles and copied Dr. Kuhles.

Dr. Kuhles has not responded nor even acknowledged my email.

Multiple Violations Of COVID Restrictions? In Saratoga County apparently no one cares.

In the December 29 edition of the Daily Gazette there was a story about an “underage drinking party and sleepover…that drew more than 50 or more travelers, one of whom was infected.” The party apparently happened in Wilton.

Warren County reported that its health workers had documented at least 10 new cases that “appear to stem” from the party. Apparently Warren County does contract tracing.

According to the Gazette:

Saratoga County officials have given no public indication they are looking into any such party — which would be in direct violation of the state’s 10-person limit on such gatherings as well as alcohol consumption laws — or looking at its potential impact on public health.

December 29 edition of the Daily Gazette

The Gazette reported that when they inquired about the party, an unnamed spokesperson for the county “provided a general quote from county Health Commissioner Dr. Daniel Kuhles on the importance of personal hygiene…” The spokesperson claimed “further comment was impossible because law enforcement is involved in the investigation.”

But Sheriff Zurlo May Not Be Doing COVID Enforcement…

The problem with this explanation is that Sheriff Michael Zurlo told Channel 6 News in November that he was not going to enforce Governor Cuomo’s executive order on limiting gatherings regarding Thanksgiving.

“I can’t see how devoting our resources to counting cars in citizens’ driveways or investigating how much turkey and dressing they’ve purchased is for the public good.”

Sheriff Michael Zurlo November 16

Sheriff Zurlo’s contemptuous reference to “how much turkey and dressing” does not inspire confidence that he took the threat of the virus very seriously. It does not inspire confidence that his department is responsible for enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.

So it is unclear, not withstanding Dr. Kuhles explanation, that law enforcement is actually involved. I am not a fan of Governor Andrew Cuomo but I do enjoy his straight talk about people who violate COVID restrictions. It would seem that this would have been an opportunity for Dr. Kuhles to have said something forceful rather than issue a call for people to wash their hands.

Contrast The County Response To Saratoga Springs

Back in March Commissioner Robin Dalton told the Daily Gazette:

“Maintaining social distance and the guidelines put in place by Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo will be key. As a city, we will be enforcing them through warnings, and ticketing and fines if needed, because your actions are that important. Our health and safety depend on them.”

Commissioner Dalton

Here is a link to the story on Saratoga Springs enforcement:

Your County Does Not Have Your Back

Let’s hope that I am wrong about the county and that they step up to their responsibilities regarding the COVID virus. So far not so good.

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