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Rockland County has declared an emergency over a measles outbreak, banning everyone under 18 who is not vaccinated from public places such as malls and churches. Those who violate the law will face misdemeanor charges.
Rockland County Executive Ed Day told a press conference on Tuesday that the New York suburb would be taking drastic measures to stop the measles outbreak which has plagued its residents since October as he declared an emergency, effective as of midnight on Wednesday.
Day said that the county was going through the longest ever measles outbreak in US history, after the highly contagious disease was declared eradicated in the US in 2000. The outbreak is now in its 26th week and, despite health officials’ efforts to encourage people to vaccinate their children, many are still reluctant.
Some put up fierce resistance, Day said, and the inspectors were being “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,” he said, denouncing this behavior as “unacceptable” and “a shocking lack of responsibility.”
He also took aim at the old-fashioned way of building resistance to the disease – the so-called ‘measles parties’ – that have been championed by anti-vaxxers. Day noted that the disease can lead to dangerous complications such as brain swelling and premature birth and should not be contracted on purpose.
The ban means that children who have not yet received their first shot of MMR vaccine will be barred from public places, which are defined as places that are intended for more than 10 persons, such as buses, schools, restaurants, malls, as well as places of worship.
The law would be enforced as any other emergency declaration and those found in violation might end up in jail for up to six months or face a $500 fine, Day said, noting that the law was aimed at encouraging people, not punishing. “There will be no law enforcement and deputy sheriffs asking for you vaccination records. This is ridiculous,” he said.
Some 72 percent of the population in the country have been vaccinated, which is far below the 97 percent threshold over which it is considered to be effective. The efforts to stop the outbreak have been primarily torpedoed by Jewish orthodox families, who refuse to follow the vaccination guidelines citing their religious beliefs.
Day specifically noted that county officials have talked to “over a hundred rabbis” to promote vaccination. He noted that there would be no exemption from the law based on religious grounds.
So far, 153 measles cases have been registered in Rockland County since October, which is nearly half of all the cases that have been reported statewide in the same period.
The declaration of emergency has faced a pushback from the anti-vaxx movement, while some criticized the measure as a step towards a police state.