Westchester officials have confirmed the first eight cases of measles in their county. It comes as the number of confirmed measles cases continues to rise in Rockland County, and health officials on Tuesday ordered nearly everyone in a heavily Orthodox Jewish New York City neighborhood to be vaccinated for measles or face fines.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer says of the eight cases, six are siblings. All are children and from northern Westchester, in the Bedford, Mount Kisco area. Latimer says none of the children attend public schools or childcare programs.
“The Westchester County Department of Health is working with the families and healthcare providers to identify the locations where the children may have exposed others,” Latimer says. “The children who are not vaccinated appear to have been exposed to measles by attending family events in Rockland County and in Brooklyn, where there have been ongoing outbreaks.”
The children range in age from six months to 14 years. Westchester Health Commissioner Dr, Sherlita Amler, who learned of the cases late Tuesday night, says two had to be hospitalized but have since been discharged.
“You heard two children were in the hospital because of this. No child should have to become ill from a disease that we can easily prevent,” says Amler. “So we’re asking for the public’s help. Help us stop this disease before it is widespread. Help us.”
Latimer, a Democrat, says the county is not taking any action at this time but, if and when, any such action would come from Amler.
“She has the authority in that particular position not only to advise us on the actions that her department will take to deal with this outbreak, but she also has the legal authority to proclaim any type of designation, any type of actions that might follow,” Latimer says. “It is not the authority of the general government — county executive, Board of Legislators — to make those declarations. And I think that is as it should be. This is a matter where science triumphs over political science.”
Nearby, Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day says his health department is finalizing criteria for new orders to keep people who may have been exposed to the measles at home and away from public places.
“You are being noticed by the commissioner of health that if you go out after you’ve been identified and you break the order, you are subject to fines. Those fines can be up to $2,000,” says Day. “So if a neighbor sees you go out and makes a phone call, and we find this to be true, that’s what’s going to happen.”
Day says pursuing another type of strategy is off the table.
“We cannot quarantine people. It’s just not a workable scenario,” says Day. “This is not Ebola. This is, these are measles.”
A state Supreme Court justice issued a preliminary injunction on April 5, halting Day’s state of emergency put in place at the end of March that barred anyone under 18 years of age and unvaccinated against the measles from public places. Day says the county is appealing that decision. That day, Rockland’s health commissioner announced that 42 people were exposed to measles at Montefiore Nyack Hospital recently. Westchester’s Health Commissioner Dr. Amler:
“A person with measles can obviously pass it to others from four days before the rash appears through the fourth day that they have the rash. And anyone who has signs or symptoms of measles, we would ask them please to not go directly to a health-care facility, their doctor, an emergency room, an urgent care unannounced,” says Amler. “Measles is airborne. It lasts in the air for hours after that person leaves the room.”
Rockland’s Day said vaccinations rose in the days following his emergency declaration. However, so have the county’s number of confirmed measles cases, now up to 180 since the outbreak in October. Meantime, Latimer acknowledges the controversy surrounding those who choose not to vaccinate their children for reasons outside of medical necessity.
“And I would say that we all have our individual rights guaranteed to us under the Constitution. Those personal rights, however, at some point in time, cross over and impact the rights of others,” Latimer says. “And when that happens, then the public health always has to be put at the highest premium.”
Amler says her health department will provide free MMR vaccines and bring clinics to impacted communities. MMR is the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella.
“I really can’t stress enough that vaccination is the key to stopping any measles outbreak,” says Amler. “When people choose not to be vaccinated, measles return and outbreaks occur.”
Elsewhere in the Hudson Valley, three additional cases of confirmed measles were reported in Orange County, bringing the number there to 15.