New York’s Rockland County has been pushed to extremes to combat its measles problem: The populous county just north of New York City is set to declare a state of emergency and bar minors who have not been vaccinated for the disease from public spaces beginning Wednesday.
The ban will last for 30 days, or until the minor is vaccinated for measles, but officials have left open the possibility for the ban to be extended.
County Executive Ed Day announced the state of emergency at a Tuesday afternoon press conference, saying it would take effect at midnight.
Day said that although county officials will not actively check whether young people in public are vaccinated, they will hold parents accountable for their children’s whereabouts. Violating the order could result in a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to six months’ jail time or a fine.
At the press conference, Day also criticized vaccination opponents, including some actors, who are ignoring the warnings of the mainstream medical community.
“If you’re going to People magazine and asking Jenny McCarthy and Robert De Niro for medical advice, you need to re-examine your life,” Day said.
Thomas Humbach, attorney for Rockland County, defined public spaces as “any place that people get together for civic, social reasons,” including schools, hospitals, shopping centers, places of business, restaurants and houses of worship ― but not outdoor spaces.
More than 300,000 people live in Rockland County, which has reported 153 cases of measles since last October, Day said. The county reported nearly 50 of those cases in 2019.
Day explained that the governmental action was sparked by “pockets of resistance” to the county’s efforts to combat the disease, particularly from religious schools. He hopes to see widespread cooperation, explaining that “the focus is not to arrest and put people in jail.”
“As this outbreak has continued, our inspectors have begun to meet resistance from those they are trying to protect. They have been hung up on or told not to call again. They’ve been told ‘we’re not discussing this, do not come back,’ when visiting the homes of infected individuals as part of their investigations,” Day said in a statement released after the press conference. “This type of response is unacceptable and irresponsible.”
According to county data, the vast majority of people recently treated for the measles had not received the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Minors, some less than a year old, made up about 85 percent of those treated for measles.
Only around three-quarters of the county’s minors are fully vaccinated against measles, Day said.
Although the U.S. eliminated measles in 2000, there’s been a recent spike in cases nationwide. Generally, outbreaks have been cropping up in pockets where there are larger-than-average proportions of unvaccinated people.
Measles, an extremely contagious virus, can cause a dangerously high fever, rash and respiratory problems.
Officials in several states are working to close loopholes that allow parents to avoid vaccinating their children for religious or philosophical reasons.
Day noted that no “forced vaccinations” would take place in Rockland County. A free MMR vaccination clinic will be set up at the county’s Robert Yeager Health Complex this week.
This story has been updated with additional comment from Ed Day.