Monday, December 14, 2020

Following Up on Following Up

Last Wednesday, Gossips published a report by Roger Hannigan Gilson that appeared on The Other Hudson Valley Facebook page. The report suggested that the decision to withhold the name of a business linked to at least eleven cases of COVID-19 had been made by the entire Columbia County Board of Supervisors. That prompted me to contact the five Hudson supervisors--Sarah Sterling (First Ward), Abdus Miah (Second Ward), Michael Chameides (Third Ward), Linda Mussmann (Fourth Ward), and Rick Scalera (Fifth Ward)--to ask them to comment on the situation. On Friday, I published the only response I had received at that point, which came from Linda Mussmann.  

Today, Gossips received the following response from Sarah Sterling, who is deputy chair of the BOS Health and Human Services Committee.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are purely my own. I am not speaking for anyone else. 
The number of “experts” on Facebook, who claim to know what is going on at the County (or what they claim isn’t being done), always amazes me. We have an experienced and professional team in the County who are doing all they can to keep us alive and safe. We are in a State of Emergency, and have been for most of the year, because of COVID-19. Heading our team is former Sheriff David Harrison, Jr., who leads Emergency Management; he holds a briefing three times a week with the heads of various departments in the County. The Sheriff’s Department, County Attorney, Department of Health, Chairman of the Board, DSS, Chair and Deputy Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Human Resources, and Clerk of the Board are present. This rather large group is similar to any command center that is set up for emergency situations. The daily COVID-19 numbers are discussed at these meetings along with any other problems concerning outbreaks, quarantines, needs for PPE, etc. They make sure the actions taken are according to law and the Governor’s directives. They decide what relevant information will go into the Chairman’s Press Release that is published three times a week on the County Website ( to make sure the public is kept informed. On our website there is also information as to where to go to get tested, who donations have come from, and much more. The current number of cases is published daily by the Department of Health, and when a nursing home is involved their names are listed on the Friday list. Members of this group are also in daily contact with the Governor’s Office, the State Board of Health and other counties to make sure all information is up to date and accurate.
HIPAA rules are in place to protect our privacy and there are also laws, already in place, from the State Board of Health that cover quarantine practices for disease outbreaks. These laws are what the County follows. When you hear of another county publicizing a business, it is usually because it was a restaurant, a chain, or a large gathering that did not collect contacts for customers and this is the only way to reach those exposed. In the case mentioned in the Chairman’s Press Release of 12-7-2020, the business was not named as the business was not a large one, has since closed to the public, and contact tracing has been done. I see no need to vilify the business any further. Yes they were extremely careless, they seem to be part of the group that believes it is all a “hoax” and that safety precautions don’t include them. I can assure you that many of us would have loved to make an example of them but caution won out. The public is trying to guess which business this is, this speculation has hurt others who are already closed out of precaution.
COVID-19 is an extraordinary event and decisions need to be made quickly. The Dept. of Health has rules in place and they are followed rigorously. Our employees, who are not slacking off like the Facebookers would like you to believe, have been working non-stop to protect our residents and contain outbreaks. I can’t say enough about Jack Mabb’s diligence and patience. Chuck Kaiser verifies all information concerning test accuracy, and now vaccine effectiveness, to be sure that we use only the best available tests and supplies. They are only part of a large experienced team that continues to work 24/7. I continue to be impressed with the dedication and discretion of the entire Emergency Management Team lead by David Harrison. This is what they do, and they do it well, without asking for credit. I have nothing but praise and pride for a job well done and I am honored to be included.

Today's press release from Matt Murell, chair of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, contains this information:

County DOH Director Jack Mabb said Monday that the Health Department is advising anyone who patronized Planet Fitness in Hudson on December 5, 6, or 7 to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-1. A staff member who worked those days has since tested positive for the virus.


  1. A less defensive elected official would say, "I understand why people might be concerned, and here's how the County has addressed those concerns." It's not even entirely convincing why the business was not named -- since it appears to have been "extremely careless"; other businesses (to wit, Planet Fitness) have been named; and still other businesses, presumably more responsible ones, are being hurt amid the speculation. It would've been nice to hear a reasonable argument for non-disclosure that avoids the defensiveness and belittling of constituents we see here.
    -Jerome Riviere

    1. Well put, Jerome. Sarah Sterling's tone is wrong and amateurish. And she says that she "sees no need to vilify this business any more." How is that even possible if the public doesn't know who it is? Who is doing the vilifying? B Huston

  2. Ham handed response for sure. I think she touches on the answer for no disclosure but can’t articulate it: HIPAA prevents anyone in possession of third party personally identifying health data from disclosing a quanta of that data might lead others to identify whose data it is. In other words, if the business is small enough that naming it would permit others to infer who is sick then naming that business is prohibited by HIPAA.