Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Defends The Right To Infect Others With COVID

On August 11, 2021, the Daily Gazette reported that a startling 43.4% of new Covid infections recorded in Saratoga County in the last seven days are breakthrough infections –infections afflicting fully vaccinated people.

Statewide the Covid infection rate has risen from 566 in June to 3,222 on August 9.

With great fanfare on July 29, 2021, Saratoga County issued a press release announcing the establishment of the Saratoga Health and Readiness Planning Task Force in light of the emerging resurgence of Covid . With an eye to branding (and spin), its acronym is SHARP.

As noted in an earlier blog this committee did not emerge from a public process involving the Board of Supervisors’ Health and Social Services Committee. In fact the Health and Social Services Committee had met the day before the announcement so it was especially noteworthy that the Task Force was not mentioned let alone discussed at that committee meeting.

SHARP was established by the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Todd Kusnierz (R-Moreau). The mission of SHARP is a bit nebulous. The release states, “The SHARP Task Force will be reviewing guidance issued by other governmental entities, reviewing relevant local data, and providing recommendations and guidance to the Saratoga County community.”

When you consider the makeup of this committee this seems especially odd.

The committee is made up of
Chairman Todd Kusnierz Clifton Park
Supervisor Jonathan Schopf, Vice Chairman of the Board
Malta Town Supervisor Darren O’Connor, Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee
County Administrator Steve Bulger
Dr. Dan Kuhles, Commissioner of the Saratoga County Department of Public Health Services
Scot Chamberlain, Saratoga County Director of Human Resources
Pete Bardunias, Senior Vice President of Community Advancement with the Capital Region Chamber
Anita Murphy, Capital Region BOCES District Superintendent

Dr. Kuhles is the only person on the Task Force who would have any expertise regarding the virus. It would seem this advice would be less political and more science based if it were provided through the county Health Department.

I’m not sure why a new task force is required to provide guidance to “the Saratoga County Community”.

In order to better understand what is going on with this Task Force I submitted a FOIL regarding any documents associated with SHARP. The response by the county was one document, the original press release.

I went to the County’s website to find out when the Task Force would be meeting, but there was nothing on their calendar regarding SHARP. I then wrote twice to the clerk of the County Board of Supervisors asking why a meeting of the Task Force was not on their calendar and when they would be meeting. Neither email was answered.

Most troubling to me were two quotes in the release by Supervisor John Schopf:

Saratoga County takes the health and well-being of its residents and employees seriously. At the same time the right of individual thought, decision making, and ultimate choice cannot be overcome by government mandate.”
Supervisor John Schopf

“With our high vaccine rate, we must be strategic and thoughtful in our approach when recommending any new public safety guidance to our communities, schools, businesses and non-profits. We believe in individual responsibility, and we want to keep Saratoga County open for business and continue to be a safe and friendly place to live and visit.
Supervisor John Schopf

So apparently this Task Force that has not met and has not given the public an opportunity for the input it said it would seek, has somehow already decided against the use of mandates as a tool to mitigate the rise in Covid cases in the county.

The need for a healthy public debate on suppressing the virus

It will not surprise the readers of this blog that I have a strong opinion on the issue of mandates and personal responsibility.

At a press conference held at the county on Wednesday, August 11, 2021, Saratoga County Health Department director Dr. Kuhles told those present:

“Masking is known to be an effective layer of prevention in schools and other locations,” Kuhles said. “It prevents the wearer from being exposed when being worn consistently and correctly and it can also act as a type of source control if the wearer of the mask is infected and prevent exposure to others.”
Dr. Dan Kuhles

So the county’s own Commissioner of Health establishes the scientific basis for the need to wear masks.

In light of the threat posed by this virus, I take very strong exception to Mr. Schopf’s assertion that, “…the right of individual thought, decision making, and ultimate choice cannot be overcome by government mandate.”

In fact there are copious examples of mandates in our country regulating an individual’s choice when it may endanger other members of the public. You cannot drink alcohol in excess and drive. You cannot drive as fast as you want on our highways. Municipal noise ordinances restrict the liberty of individuals to annoy their neighbors.

The CDC has made it absolutely clear that wearing a mask is primarily meant to suppress the spread of the disease to others. In other words an individual infected with the virus, even if asymptomatic, who is not wearing a mask and interacts with others has the potential to infect them.

Besides the health affects of this disease, the more people infected the greater the risk that the virus will mutate and become even more dangerous.

Most frustrating to me is that if our government had expeditiously required vaccinations, required masks, and required quarantining for persons identified as infected, we could have crushed this disease and gone back to something approaching normality.

Below is the press release my FOIL produced. Press Release

With Kafka Logic County Announces It Will Not Require Masking At Its Facilities

The following is an email issued by the County Administrator to all county employees on Wednesday, August 11, 2021, and the memorandum attached to it.

I cannot find any record of any Board of Supervisors meeting or committee addressing whether masks should be mandated for the county’s facilities. So much for transparency and democratic procedure.

The attached memorandum contains the following:

While CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask indoors in public during periods of substantial or high COVID transmission to reduce the risk of being infected with the Delta variant and possibly spreading it to others, at this time no mandate is in place for employees in most county buildings.”

One might foolishly expect that there would be some reason given to explain why they have decided to ignore the CDC recommendation.

County Administrator’s Email And Accompanying Memorandum

From: Steve Bulger <SBulger@saratogacountyny.gov>
Sent: Wednesday, August 11, 2021 12:33:52 PM
Subject: Covid-19 Employee Update County Employees: Please review the attached information regarding the current Covid-19 situation.   If anything changes we will be sure to keep you informed promptly. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication on behalf of our Saratoga County residents. Steve Bulger Saratoga County Administrator 518-884-4742 sbulger@saratogacountyny.gov

From: Steve Bulger <SBulger@saratogacountyny.gov>
Sent: Wednesday, August 11, 2021 12:33:52 PM
Subject: Covid-19 Employee Update County Employees:

Please review the attached information regarding the current Covid-19 situation.   If anything changes we will be sure to keep you informed promptly. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication on behalf of our Saratoga County residents.
Steve Bulger Saratoga County Administrator 518-884-4742 sbulger@saratogacountyny.gov

Supervisor Tara Gaston Calls For Masking Of County Employees And Is Unceremoniously Ignored

Back on August 7, 2021, Supervisor Tara Gaston wrote to the members of the Board of Supervisors urging them to require masking. No one responded to her memorandum.

I guess you can characterize the county’s press release that rejects a mask mandate as their response.

From: Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>
Subject: Re: RELEASE: SARATOGA COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICES ISSUES COVID-19 HEALTH ADVISORY
Date: August 7, 2021 at 18:00:39 EDT

To: Therese Connolly <TConnolly@saratogacountyny.gov>, “supervisorwright@townofhadley.org” <supervisorwright@townofhadley.org>, “twood71098@aol.com” <twood71098@aol.com>, Matthew Veitch <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, “ktollisen@townofhalfmoon.org” <ktollisen@townofhalfmoon.org>, “tjr51550@gmail.com” <tjr51550@gmail.com>, “edinburg@roadrunner.com” <edinburg@roadrunner.com>, “billpeckwelcomestockfarm@outlook.com” <billpeckwelcomestockfarm@outlook.com>, “rlucia@townofcorinthny.com” <rlucia@townofcorinthny.com>, “lawlerj@town.waterford.ny.us” <lawlerj@town.waterford.ny.us>, “ekinowski@stillwaterny.org” <ekinowski@stillwaterny.org>, “supervisor@townofcharlton.org” <supervisor@townofcharlton.org>, Jonathan Schopf <jschopf@saratogacountyny.gov>, “providencesupervisor@nycap.rr.com” <providencesupervisor@nycap.rr.com>, Phil Barrett <pbarrett@cliftonpark.org>, “dpemrick@greenfieldny.org” <dpemrick@greenfieldny.org>, “tbrown@stillwaterny.org” <tbrown@stillwaterny.org>, “trussell@townofhalfmoon.org” <trussell@townofhalfmoon.org>, “Theodore T. Kusnierz” <TKusnierz@saratogacountyny.gov>, Thomas Wood <TWood@saratogacountyny.gov>, Darren O’Connor <doconnor@malta-town.org>, Benny Zlotnick <BZlotnick@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Econnolly@townofballstonny.org” <Econnolly@townofballstonny.org>, “jlant@townofwilton.com” <jlant@townofwilton.com>, Dan Pemrick <dpemrick60@gmail.com>, Preston Allen <daysupervisor@townofday.com>, Mike Smith <msmith@townofgalwayny.org>, Robin Renaud <ssec@townofmoreau.org> Cc: Bridget Rider <BRider@saratogacountyny.gov>

Based on the continued increase, and the guidance from this advisory, is there at least an intention to require (not simply recommend) masks in county buildings?  While I know a mandate county-wide is unlikely to occur and would be of dubious effectiveness for a number of reasons, a requirement in county buildings would both help protect county staff that interact with the public and serve as a model for the public more broadly (which is I assume why several county municipalities already have such a requirement in effect). 

Tara N. Gaston | she/her
Supervisor, City of Saratoga Springs
tngaston@saratogacountyny.gov

3 thoughts on “Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Defends The Right To Infect Others With COVID”

  1. The line “At the same time the right of individual thought, decision making, and ultimate choice cannot be overcome by government mandate” reminds me of a some comparisons I’ve heard recently between COVID-related mandates and drunk driving. Yes, drunk driving puts the driver at the most risk, but it also greatly increases the risk to everyone on the road with them, all without their consent or knowledge. If someone said “Driving drunk is my personal choice as an individual. You should just wear a seatbelt & drive sober if you’re so worried,” they would rightly be seen as a public liability and ultimately face repercussions for their actions.

    “Personal choices” or “individual responsibilities” that have material public consequences are public health issues, and need to be handled accordingly. It is shameful that the County is unnecessarily putting its constituents at risk because one party has decided to make vaccines (which have been required/mandated for certain activities throughout American history) and masking-wearing a partisan issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. According to an article in today’s NY Times (8/13) “Timid Advice on Masking by CDC Vexes Experts”: “Masks ‘are actually amazing because they work immediately—they start reducing transmission today’ said Julia Raifman, an assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health. ‘Every case they prevent prevents several other cases, so their effectiveness grows over time.’ Masking also helps protect children who can’t be vaccinated yet, and others who are susceptible like the elderly…Masking also helps to prevent the virus from circulating, reducing the chances that it will mutate, possibly into a form more virulent that may evade vaccines altogether.” It would seem the public good seriously outweighs individual privilege in this case.

    Like

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