New York county bans unvaccinated children from public places after measles outbreak

It is hoped the action will reverse a recent uptick in cases Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA

A county in New York City’s northern regions has declared a state of emergency over a measles outbreak which has infected more than 150 people since last autumn.

Under the declaration, which lasts for at least 30 days, anyone under 18 who is not vaccinated against measles is barred from:

  • Public gathering places

  • Shopping centres

  • Civic centres

  • Schools restaurants

  • Houses of worship

Those in violation of the declaration could also be charged with an offence punishable by up to six months in jail.

"It’s an attention grab, there’s no question about it," Rockland County Executive Ed Day said at a news conference, noting that he did not believe such a drastic step has ever been tried in the US before.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day Credit: Peter Carr/The Journal News via AP

Mr Day said he was taking the action in hopes of reversing a recent uptick in cases amid disturbing reports that health workers were encountering resistance when investigating cases.

Rockland’s outbreak has most heavily affected Orthodox Jewish communities, in which vaccination rates tend to be lower.

"There will not be law enforcement or deputy sheriffs asking for vaccination records. That is ridiculous," Mr Day said before adding: "However, parents will be held accountable if they’re found to be in violation of this emergency declaration."

In the early days of the outbreak, people were cooperating with health officials and getting children vaccinated, he said, but that has changed.

The county is experiencing New York state’s longest measles outbreak since the disease was declared officially eliminated from the United States in 2000.

Health officials say the best way to stop the disease’s spread is a vaccination rate in the community of 92% to 95%.

Mr Day said only 72.9% of people under 18 have been vaccinated against measles in Rockland County, which has more than 300,000 residents.

There are 153 cases of measles to date in the Rockland County, according to Ed Day. Credit: AP

Civil rights lawyer Michael Sussman, who represents the parents of 44 unvaccinated children who were barred from a Waldorf School in the county, said he would discuss a possible challenge to the emergency declaration in a meeting with his clients on Tuesday night.

"It’s irrational," Mr Sussman said. "You’re punishing people who don’t have the illness rather than quarantining people who are sick."

Mr Sussman said a quarantine of measles patients and those close to them would quickly stop the disease’s spread.

The outbreak began in the Rockland area when seven unvaccinated travellers diagnosed with measles entered the county last October.