New York county declares state of emergency for measles, bans unvaccinated minors from public places

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Citing pockets of resistance that are impeding the county’s efforts to stem a measles outbreak that has risen to 153 cases since October, Rockland officials today declared a state of emergency.

Starting at midnight, anyone who is under 18 and not vaccinated against measles will be banned from public places. This ban will last until the declaration expires in 30 days or until people are vaccinated.

Places covered under the ban include shopping centers, restaurants, schools and places of worship. Outdoor gathering places are not included.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day announces a state of emergency for Rockland County related to the measles outbreak. (Photo: Peter Carr/The Journal News)

The county will be disseminating signs explaining the ban this afternoon to be posted in public areas included in the ban.

Although Rockland’s outbreak has primarily affected members of the Orthodox Jewish community, Rockland County Executive Ed Day said there’s no religious exemption.

The county executive said the timing was meant to coincide with family gatherings during the upcoming holidays of Passover and Easter.

Noncompliance will carry penalties of six months in jail or a $500 fine, although Day said law enforcement would not be deployed at any location seeking proof of vaccination.

The announcement comes days after county health officials announced six new exposure sites in Spring Valley and Monsey, including Target in Spring Valley Marketplace, All Fresh Supermarket, Atrium Plaza, Designer’s Spot, TOR bus loop 2 Eastbound and International Taxi.

This was the first time the county released new exposure sites since Thanksgiving weekend. Measles cases have been slowly rising. On March 21, the county announced a total number of 150 confirmed measles cases since the outbreak began in October.

State health officials declined to declare a state of emergency in Rockland last month after measles got national attention due to an outbreak and emergency declaration in Washington state. Officials said they were holding regular emergency preparedness calls with local health departments since October after activating its incident management system. At the time there were 137 total measles cases in the county.

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Rockland’s exposure sites have mostly been in Monsey or Spring Valley, and anti-vaccination advocates last fall used a phone hotline called Akeres HaBayis to tell parents to continue sending their children to school.

But Rockland health officials caution that due to the small geographic size of the county, anyone who is unvaccinated is at risk for measles.

Rockland County Legislator Aron Wieder, D-Spring Valley, said he reserved comment until he’s heard more details. He was unaware of the planned state of emergency until a press announcement was issued.

“Overall, I think that people should be mindful about this terrible disease,” said Wieder, who is Hasidic. “I think there is a false perception that people in the Orthodox Jewish community are not vaccinated. That’s not the case. I’m vaccinated. All my children are vaccinated.”

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Schools targeted

Rockland County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert issued an order on Dec. 5 that schools in the 10952 and 10977 ZIP codes with vaccination rates under 95 percent must keep unvaccinated children from attending.

Nine yeshivas were fined in November for not reporting unvaccinated students. A federal judge denied a temporary injunction to allow unvaccinated students to return to class at the Green Meadow Waldorf School after parents brought a lawsuit against the county.

In a letter to all Rockland County public school superintendents sent out this afternoon, BOCES CEO Mary Jean Marsico said that although she was waiting to hear more information, the “responsibility for enforcement” is on the parent or guardian of the child.

Marsico said she has been in talks with the Department of Health and Rockland County Executive’s Office. Once additional information is given, schools will be notified the appropriate course of action.

New York City’s health department has reported 181 measles cases as of March 19. A new outbreak with eight measles cases in New Jersey began earlier this month after an outbreak linked to the one in New York was declared over in January.

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The original measles cases in New York and New Jersey in October came from travelers visiting from or traveling home from Israel, which is experiencing a measles outbreak that has affected more than 3,400 people and caused at least two deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed 314 measles cases in 2019 as of March 21 in 15 states, including New York, New Jersey and Washington.

Measles has been eliminated in the United States due to high vaccination rates, but pockets of measles outbreaks can break out in un- or under-vaccinated areas due to travelers bringing in measles from outside of the U.S., officials said.

Follow Matt Spillane, Rochel Leah Goldblatt and Nancy Cutler on Twitter: @MattSpillane, @ReporterRox and @nancyrockland

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