New York City declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn with a measles outbreak in Orthodox Jewish communities.
The measure, announced April 9 by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), means that the city will require unvaccinated people who may have been exposed to measles to receive the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. It applies to selected ZIP codes in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
The step represents a broadening of the city’s response to the outbreak. More than 280 cases have been reported since October, and incidences have accelerated in the past two months. It came the day after the city Health Department announced that Orthodox religious schools in parts of Brooklyn must exclude unvaccinated students or face fines and possible shutdowns.
Under the mandatory vaccination policy, the city said, the department will check the vaccination records of anyone who may have been in contact with infected patients. If they haven’t gotten the MMR vaccine or can’t show evidence of immunity, they may be fined $1,000.
“There’s no question that vaccines are safe, effective and life-saving,” de Blasio said. “I urge everyone, especially those in affected areas, to get their MMR vaccines to protect their children, families and communities.”
New York City and suburban Rockland County, which both have large Orthodox communities, have the most measles cases by far among places where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted outbreaks. Washington, Michigan, California, and New Jersey have also reported multiple cases.
The 465 cases of measles confirmed in 2019 in 19 states constitute the second-largest number reported in the U.S. since measles was declared eliminated in 2000, the CDC said.
Rockland Court Fight Continues
In Rockland, county officials and a lawyer for parents at a Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., school closed for its low vaccination rates continued to argue over the boundaries of the county’s authority to act against an outbreak there.
The lawyer, Michael Sussman of Goshen, N.Y., objected April 9 to the position of County Executive Ed Day (R) that unvaccinated students remain barred from attending school even after a state-court judge temporarily blocked his broad March 26 emergency declaration.
Day announced that position April 8, soon after the judge had ruled that the county may have lacked adequate legal grounds for the March order, which barred unvaccinated minors from all public places. The county maintained that they still cannot go back to school, because it reverted to enforcing previous Health Department orders requiring them to get vaccinated.
In a letter to the judge, Sussman said that the county was “deceiving the court” with its argument that the earlier orders survived the suspension of the emergency declaration.
The earlier orders, he said, are “not committed to writing, without legal basis, and arbitrary and capricious.” He asked the court to reject the county’s position and make clear that its April 5 temporary restraining order had the effect of reopening schools closed by the county.
County Will Appeal
The county will appeal the judge’s decision, Day announced at an afternoon news conference April 9. He called the ruling “wrong-headed” and questioned how the outbreak couldn’t qualify as an emergency.
“If this is not an emergency, what is?” he asked.
Day stuck by his position that prior orders by county Health Commissioner Patricia Schnabel Ruppert still require any school with less than 95 percent of students vaccinated to keep unvaccinated students home.
Unvaccinated children of the parents who sued the county will be allowed to return to their schools, Day said. But the county still disputes his conclusion as a legal matter, County Attorney Thomas Humbach said.
More than two-thirds of the schools subject to the county Health Department orders have brought their immunization rates above the 95 percent threshold, Ruppert said. She credited several Orthodox religious academies by name as examples, adding: “Every school in Rockland County can achieve this goal. There is no need to fear immunization.”
The schools in the lawsuit against the county, which their lawyer said have a 48 percent vaccination rate, are Waldorf schools with no religious affiliation.