An ongoing measles outbreak in New York’s Rockland County has prompted the county executive to declare a state of emergency. The countywide declaration starts at midnight and lasts for a month.
Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day says it is time to sound the alarm for a public health crisis.
“Effective at the stroke of midnight tonight, March 27, anyone who is under 18 years of age and is unvaccinated against the measles will be barred from public places until the declaration expires in 30 days or until they receive at least their first shot of MMR,” Day says.
MMR is the vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella. Day says those under 18 who are unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons are exempt. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which update Rockland measles information weekly, say that nearly 85 percent of confirmed cases are in those ages 18 or younger. Day says this age group makes up 128 of the county’s 153 confirmed cases.
“We believe it to be the first such effort of its kind nationally, and the circumstances we face here clearly call for that,” Day says. “Rockland will lead the way in service and safety to the people here.”
Day says the emergency declaration is necessary as the number of reported cases continues to rise, but he underscores that the county will not actively seek out arrests.
“There will not be law enforcement or deputy sheriffs asking for your vaccination records. That is ridiculous. To repeat, that is not nor will ever be the focus of this effort,” says Day. “However, if you are found to be in violation of this declaration, your case will be referred to the district attorney’s office. That just comes with the emergency declaration and is proscribed by law.”
Day says violation of the order is a Class B misdemeanor and/or a $500 fine. The CDC says that, as of March 19, there have been 181 confirmed cases of measles in Brooklyn and Queens since October. Most of these cases have involved members of the Orthodox Jewish community. Rockland County’s emergency declaration applies to public places, which County Attorney Thomas Humbach describes.
“We’ve defined a place of public assembly as any place that people get together for civic, social reasons that could include shopping centers, places where people do business, restaurants, places typically where a bunch of people who are not related show up and gather together,” says Humbach.
These also include schools and houses of worship. Humbach says outdoor places are not included. Day says the outbreak, which took hold in October 2018, is the longest in the country since 2000, when the disease was eradicated. Citing state data, Day says that nearly 73 percent of the residents ages 18 and younger are vaccinated against the measles, including nearly 17,000 who were vaccinated since the outbreak began. And the nearly 17,000 immunized were in a largely Orthodox community.
“Parents will be held accountable if they are found to be in violation of the state of emergency. And the focus of this effort is on the parents of these children,” says Day. “We are urging them, once again, now with of law, to get your children vaccinated.”
The majority of confirmed measles cases are in Orthodox communities, where Day says leaders have been cooperative in getting the word out about the importance of vaccinations. He says there are pockets of resistance against vaccination unrelated to religion. For example, earlier in March, a number of parents filed a lawsuit challenging the breadth of the county’s December exclusion order barring their unvaccinated children from attending the Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge, a private school in a hotspot zip code.
Day says the county intended to disseminate signs Tuesday afternoon detailing the emergency declaration.