The number of confirmed measles cases in Rockland County, New York, continues to rise. The county executive is highlighting his health department’s recent orders, while a state senator is introducing a bill to counter misleading vaccination information.
On Thursday, Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day renewed his state of emergency that was rescinded April 16 and expired April 25, all after a judge halted the March 26 declaration April 5. The initial declaration barred those under 18 years of age unvaccinated against measles from public places.
“We are in a crisis. We are in a state of emergency,” Day says. “Rockland County, with .01 percent of the national population has 29 percent of the cases of measles.”
Day says the renewed declaration of the state of emergency does not contain his initial directive or any other. It reaffirms the county department of health’s orders issued last week.
“Over the last 30 days, since my original declaration was issued and then stopped by the courts, an action that was specifically timed and precisely detailed, we have lost the one thing we could not afford to lose, valuable time,” says Day. “With 50 confirmed cases in less than a month, what we predicted has sadly come true.”
The outbreak began in October, with the visit of seven travelers from Israel, and is mainly in Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish areas of the county. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that from January 1 to April 19, there have been 626 confirmed cases of measles in 22 states. This represents an increase of 71 cases from the previous week. It’s also the second-greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated in 2000, second only to the 667 cases reported during all of 2014. In the coming weeks, confirmed case numbers for 2019 will likely surpass 2014 levels. Day is calling for action.
“Our federal government cannot sit idly by. They must ensure that anyone entering this country for any reason produce valid documentation or appropriate immunization records. This needs to be done. This is not a Rockland County issue. It’s a nationwide and, in some respects, worldwide issue,” Day says. “Not tomorrow, not in a week, not in a year; it must be done immediately, I would recommend even through executive order from the president. We need to have immediate action. To do any less is both a disservice to and a betrayal of the people of this country.”
Rockland County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert last week issued guidelines under a “Communicable Disease & Exposure Exclusion Order.” First: any person diagnosed with the measles or exposed to a person diagnosed with the measles must be excluded from indoor and outdoor public places for up to 21 days. The order also includes guidelines for unvaccinated students, and this has affected 331 students.
Meantime, Democratic state Senator David Carlucci, whose 38th District includes most of Rockland County, has introduced a bill calling for a state-funded vaccine awareness campaign. It requires the state Health Department to work with an outside contractor to develop the campaign.
“So, we have to get real about this problem. And there’s been a lot of misinformation out there. There’s been a dedicated campaign to push the reasons not to vaccinate, and we need to counter that,” says Carlucci. “And so, yes, this is more of a long-term public health strategy to say how do we eventually eradiate the measles and other infectious diseases that we can, we know we can do if we increase vaccination rates.”
He says the awareness campaign would be funded through a check-off box on a personal income tax form so people can give charitably to the initiative.
“And so, yes, I know that we’re not going to convince people right now that have already been convinced that they don’t want to vaccinate. That’s an argument we’re not going to win. But what we have to do is be proactive and look to really be educating people long term, even before they have children, to know about the importance of vaccinating and not just how important it is for that individual, but how important it is for the health of the entire community,” Carlucci says. "And that’s something that we need to collectively be working together as a state to promote that, just like we promote other types of public health awareness campaigns.”
The state Health Department has been administering measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccines, with Rockland, Orange and Westchester Counties, with more than 19,000 doses administered in Rockland since October 3.
A state Health Department spokeswoman, in a statement says, “Since this outbreak began last October, the State Department of Health has spearheaded an unprecedented public health response, working closely with local health departments in all the affected counties. We are committed to continuing to work with all community stakeholders to ensure that our targeted message of vaccination to stop the measles spread is reaching impacted communities.” As for Carlucci’s legislation, she says the Department is supportive of all efforts to raise awareness of the measles outbreak, but does not comment on pending legislation.
According to the state Health Department, there are currently 234 confirmed cases of measles in New York outside New York City — 201 in Rockland; 20 in Orange County; 10 in Westchester County; two in Sullivan County and one in Suffolk County.