In New York state, Rockland County’s count for measles cases rose this week to 180 since the outbreak began here last October. Just this month, we have seen 23 new cases, 85% of these cases have been in children. In the first week of April, a person with measles was brought to our local hospital ER and promptly exposed 42 people to the highly contagious disease. Those exposures included 11 children and four pregnant women.
I have grave concerns about the trajectory of the measles outbreak here in Rockland County. In an effort to stem the tide of cases, we declared a state of emergency in late March, which barred unvaccinated persons under the age of 18 from public places for 30 days, or until they are vaccinated.
Unfortunately, the anti-vaxx movement, which relies on inaccurate science and dangerous misinformation, inserted itself into something that only health and government officials should be allowed to determine. Their legal challenge resulted in a questionable court opinion temporarily blocking our state of emergency order. We disagree with the judge’s opinion that this measles crisis does not rise to the level of an emergency and are appealing the decision.
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I refuse to sit idly by while those in Rockland are put at risk as my highest responsibility is for the well-being of the people. We are moving forward with other steps to ensure the public health of Rockland is strong, vital and free of preventable diseases.
A national outbreak is a national outrage
In our continuing efforts to limit and prevent exposures to others, our county health department is ensuring compliance with our health commissioner’s orders issued in December, which require any school with a less than 95% vaccination rate to keep unvaccinated students home. Schools must continue to comply or face fines. We are also moving ahead with new strategies to help protect the public health and further limit exposures.
Our health department is working to finalize criteria to identify individuals who will be issued new orders that will further prevent the spread of measles by requiring unvaccinated people who have been exposed to measles to remain home and away from public places.
This is a slight pivot from what our state of emergency declaration was achieving, but it is a step we can take now while we wait on our legal appeal. This measles outbreak is an imminent threat to public health and we will continue to take every action within our power to combat it, just as other communities throughout the nation are doing.
Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts and Nevada reported their first cases of measles this year, bringing the total number of states reporting cases to 19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, nationally, their were 387 cases of measles between January 1 and March 28 alone, exceeding the total number of cases for all of 2018.
The CDC also reports that the total number of measles cases nationwide this year “is the second-greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated in 2000.”
Containing a preventable disease
We need the help of the public at large to be successful in our efforts to limit and prevent exposure to others. As we recently experienced here in Rockland County at our local hospital, just one person with measles can spread the disease to others exponentially.
►It is vital that all cases of the measles be immediately reported to health care providers and/or health departments so that exposures can be limited and post-exposure prophylaxis can be offered.
►We urge anyone who has symptoms or thinks they may have been exposed to call ahead before seeking medical care so doctor’s offices, hospitals and urgent care centers can take appropriate actions to limit possible exposure to others.
►When those with measles or those who have been exposed to measles are directed to stay home, they must stay home and away from those who could be at risk.
►I cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting vaccinated. It is safe, effective and it is the responsible thing to do. One in 20 children with the measles develops pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in children. One in 1000 children develop swelling of the brain, which can cause deafness and intellectual disability. These complications are preventable with the MMR vaccine.
Let us all hope that reasonable minds prevail during this crisis, and that all of our communities are able to recognize the need to place the health and well-being of our neighbors above all else, before these outbreaks become epidemic.
Ed Day is the Rockland County executive.
The texts, information and opinions published in the space are the sole responsibility of the author. Therefore, they do not necessarily correspond to the VIP CEO’s point of view.