Rockland declares end to measles outbreak that involved vaccination fights, court battles
NEW CITY - Rockland County officials have declared an end to the infectious and potentially dangerous measles outbreak that began in October and affected more than 300 people, becoming a nationwide issue and spawning court battles and debates over the need to vaccinate children.
Officials declared the outbreak over after 42 days — two incubation periods — had passed since the last person with the rash reported the virus. No new measles cases were reported to the Rockland Health Department in the impacted areas.
County Executive Ed Day and Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert will make an official announcement at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the Media Room of the County Office Building, 11 New Hempstead Road, New City.
Since the outbreak began in October, the Health Department reported 312 cases of measles in the county, with a great majority of cases in the Monsey-Spring Valley communities of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews.
The department with community partners such as New Square's Refuah Health Center, private pediatricians, and family doctors administered 29,027 doses of measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine (shots).
And the end brought relief to county officials, such as Day, who found himself at the center of the storm over decisions to put regulations prohibiting adults and children who got the infectious virus from appearing in public. The regulations were unenforceable unless voluntarily adhered to.
The county's attempts to ban people infected with the virus and force them to stay home led to court fights, which the county inevitably lost.
“I am so proud of the way our community has rallied together to fight this outbreak. We could not have brought it to an end without the help our Department of Health received from federal and state public health agencies along with the community leaders and organizations, elected officials, schools, hospitals, clinics, doctors, and residents who worked together against this dangerous disease,” Day said.
The outbreak kicked off, officials said, when travelers came to the county from Israel. The department documented the spread of the virus to areas where the people shopped, exercised and did business.
Rockland got caught up in a nationwide and worldwide rise in measles, long thought under control with proper vaccinations.
Worldwide and nationwide, measles rates have increased. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as of Aug. 22, 1,215 cases have been confirmed in the United States this year. Cases of measles have been confirmed in 30 states.
Rockland County has had one of the worst outbreaks of 2019 and part of the largest measles outbreak in New York state since 1992.
The outbreak occurred mostly among unvaccinated individuals, with 92% of the Rockland cases never having received or had documentation of receiving the MMR vaccine.
To prevent future outbreaks, the health department offered MMR, along with flu, and other required vaccinations. Staying up-to-date with your measles vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and the community, especially those who cannot get vaccinated because they are too young or have specific health conditions.
Health officials warn, though, that Rockland is a small geographical area, and the virus could spread anywhere. The respiratory illness is highly contagious and can linger in the air up to two hours after an infected person has left an area.
According to the Rockland health department in August, about 80% of measles cases have occurred in people age 18 or younger.
Nearly 80% had no vaccinations for measles, which is usually given in the measles-mumps-rubella combination vaccine.
A first MMR dose is usually given around age 1 with a followup MMR dose given around age 4. Two doses of MMR is considered 97% effective. In Rockland, 3.2% of the people who contracted measles had received two vaccines, according to the health department. But 11.5% of the 312 people documented as having had measles had unknown vaccination status.
Rockland Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, who steered the county through the crisis and kept residents informed, said "this outbreak involved a large amount of staff time and resources.
She said that "thanks to our highly skilled and dedicated team at the Health Department, community outreach, case investigations, and required reporting were completed competently and in a timely manner. As one of the most highly contagious diseases in the world, almost 1,200 residents during the outbreak period were actively monitored to help contain the outbreak."
Day declared the emergency March 26 in an attempt to put the brakes on an outbreak that had reached 168 cases of the highly contagious virus at that point since October, when an infected traveler from Israel visited Rockland.
Acting state Supreme Court Judge Rolf Thorsen issued an injunction to an earlier state of emergency that banned unvaccinated children under age 18 from indoor public spaces, including schools and places of worship.
The legal challenge was brought by several dozen parents whose unvaccinated children attend the Green Meadow Waldorf School and the Peace Through Play Nursery School, both in Chestnut Ridge.
Thorsen ruled the number of cases didn't rise to the level of an epidemic and called Day's emergency declaration "misplaced."
"If this isn't a health emergency," Day said previously in a news release, "What is?"
The Health Department offers clinics where residents of all ages can get their MMR and other shots such as the Flu Clinic, Child Immunization Clinic, and Adult Immunization Clinic (for eligible patients).