New York’s Rockland County has declared a state of emergency this Tuesday. Officials also issued a directive barring unvaccinated children from all public spaces.

Do not enter sign.

Unvaccinated children will be banned from entering public spaces for the next 30 days.
Image credits Nicholas Jackson.

The outbreak began last October and has afflicted 153 people so far, mostly children. In a bid to prevent further infections, the county barred unvaccinated children from public spaces for 30 days, or until they receive their vaccines. Anti-vaccine parents tried to take the decision down in federal court but their case was dismissed.

State of emergency

“We must not allow this outbreak to continue indefinitely,” said County Executive Ed Day in a statement announcing the emergency declaration. “Every action we have taken since the beginning of this outbreak has been designed to maximize vaccinations and minimize exposures.”

“We are taking the next step in that endeavor today. We must do everything in our power to end this outbreak and protect the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and that of children too young to be vaccinated.”

Last September, a traveler arrived in Rockland from Israel, which is also struggling with outbreaks of the highly infectious virus. It has since spread through the local communities, particularly among the county’s insular Orthodox Jews, authorities note, and other groups with low average vaccination rates. Currently, Rockwell is one of six locations in America going through a measles outbreak.

Starting from midnight on Wednesday, March 27, anyone aged 18 or younger who has not been vaccinated against measles will not be allowed to access public spaces in Rockland for 30 days — or until they get the shot. In their directive, authorities define public spaces as areas where “more than 10 persons are intended to congregate for purposes such as civic, governmental, social, or religious functions, or for recreation or shopping, or for food or drink consumption, or awaiting transportation, or for daycare or educational purposes, or for medical treatment. A place of public assembly shall also include public transportation vehicles, including but not limited to, publicly or privately owned buses or trains.”

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“We’re not punishing the people who are doing the right thing already and following the rules. We just want to encourage everyone to do the right thing so we can stop this outbreak,” said John Lyon, Rockland County Executive Ed Day’s director of strategic communications.
The step is “extremely unusual. [We] don’t believe it’s been done anywhere in the country before.”

So it’s pretty comprehensive. The prohibition was decided upon after county health officials announced six new exposure sites in Spring Valley and Monsey, including several supermarkets, public transport areas, and other social hotspots says USA Today. It also follows an order the county issued last December which barred unvaccinated children from schools in the 10952 and 10977 ZIP codes that were not at a minimum 95% vaccination rate. Taken together, the two are intended to stymie the spread of the measles virus by limiting potential exposure to those most at risk: the unvaccinated.

These measures didn’t go unchallenged. Earlier this month, ArsTechnica reports, anti-vaccination parents took the ban to court. It violated their religious freedom, they argued, as they had used religious exemptions to opt their children out of the standard vaccination programme. However, their case was denied, and the judge did not agree to issue a temporary injunction that would let the children return to school.

Personally, I think that was the right move on the part of the judge. Some of the parents, however, seem not to agree:

“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 noted in his announcement.

“This type of response is unacceptable and irresponsible. It endangers the health and wellbeing of others and displays a shocking lack of responsibility and concern for others in our community.”

So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 314 cases of measles across 15 states. This figure stood at 372 cases total in 2018 and 120 in 2017.

Day said the timing of this ban was meant to coincide with family gatherings during the upcoming holidays of Passover and Easter. Noncompliance will incur penalties of six months in jail or a $500 fine, although law enforcement will not be deployed at any location seeking proof of vaccination, Day adds.