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Saratoga Springs Mayor Wants More Communication From County Public Health As COVID Spikes

Saratoga Spings officials met Tuesday for the regular city council meeting
Image capture of streamed council meeting by WAMC
Saratoga Spings officials met Tuesday for the regular city council meeting

Saratoga Springs officials are complaining of a lack of communication between Saratoga County and the city as COVID cases continue to rise.

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton provided an update to the city council Tuesday night on the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Spa City. As of Tuesday, there were more than 340 active cases of COVID-19 – a number that has nearly doubled since December 18th.

Dalton, a Republican, urged the public to take precautions as the city experiences community spread.

“People who are getting infected don’t know how they’re getting infected or where it came from. Oftentimes they’re making all the right choices. So I really encourage people to be safe, stay home, order in…”

Also this week, the state confirmed its first case of the new viral strain first observed in the U.K., traced to a downtown Saratoga Springs jewelry store.

Just hours before Tuesday’s meeting, Saratoga County’s EMS coordinator provided an update through a Facebook Live event on the status of vaccine distribution, testing for the new variant, and other information. Absent, however, was the county’s new Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Daniel Kuhles.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly, who told WAMC earlier in the day she was frustrated by the lack of communication with the county, put her vexation into the record before the council.

“Where is the Commissioner of Public Health? That’s what I want to know. Get him out and have him start making announcements to the public. We want to hear from him. Where is he?”

Saratoga Springs county supervisor Tara Gaston delivered a statement and attempted to defend Kuhles’ absence, but her remarks were met by a frustrated Mayor Kelly, a fellow Democrat.

“Where is he right now? He’s on his phone with the state and pushing these tests and making sure that our community has the information they need…”

“…Tara, I’m just going to stop you there because he can’t be on the phone 24 hours a day.”

WAMC has also met a lack of communication from the county’s public health department. A request last week submitted through a public relations firm retained by the county to speak with leaders about a recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases traced to an underage party in the Saratoga County Town of Wilton went unanswered.

Gaston attempted to characterize the relationship between the state and county during the last several weeks, as the counties, which were required to put into place mass-vaccination plans, have been following new guidance from the state.

“I have said many times, the county has not acted as fulsomely as we could. This is a chronically understaffed and under-resourced department and as a result of that we do not have the communications that we need. One hundred percent. But I fully support Commissioner Kuhles,” said Gaston.   

In addition to spending time on the phone with the state, Gaston said Dr. Kuhles was physically required to be on hand as the county began distributing its first COVID vaccinations.

The county received about 1,500 new doses of coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday and a coronavirus testing site began operating at SPAC to test those who may have been exposed to the new strain.

County supervisor Matthew Veitch, who also provided an update to the council Tuesday evening, has, along with Gaston and other leaders from more populated communities in Saratoga County, in the past criticized the perceived lack of transparency from county leaders throughout the pandemic.

The Republican said he was looking forward to the county Board of Supervisors’ 2021 organizational meeting, set to take place Wednesday afternoon.

“And after 2020 I hope that we can do a better job and work hard to serve the community, be responsible, open, and transparent, and work better, function better as a county, eliminate some old outdated processes and do better for everybody,” said Veitch.

The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors will meet at 4 p.m.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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