- Officials in Rockland County New York have imposed a 30-day state of emergency that bans unvaccinated minors from public spaces.
- The move comes after Rockland reported 153 measles cases, 84 percent of which were found in people 18 and under.
- Officials say the move is mostly to get public attention and hold parents accountable, but if parents are caught with an unvaccinated child in public they could receive up to six months in jail or fines of $500.
State of Emergency
Officials in Rockland County New York declared a state of emergency on Tuesday that effectively bans all unvaccinated children under the age of 18 from being allowed in public places.
The state of emergency is set to last 30 days until April 25. This means that unvaccinated minors cannot be in a public space until they receive at least one vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), or until the 30 days are up.
The declaration defines a “public place” as anywhere in public where more than ten people are congregated. Notably, that includes schools, stores and restaurants, places of worship, and public transit.
The only exceptions to the ban are for the purpose of medical care, immunizations, and public appearances required by law, like attendance at court. However the declaration does require parents or guardians to call in advance and inform these places that their children are unvaccinated.
While there is no way to formally enforce the ban, officials have said that that not really the point of the declaration.
In a press conference, Rockland County Executive Ed Day said that the move is intended to get people’s attention and hold parents accountable.
“There will not be law enforcement or deputy sheriffs asking for your vaccination records, that is ridiculous,” said Day, “However, if you are found to be in violation of this declaration your case will be referred to the district attorneys office, that just comes with the emergency declaration and is prescribed by law.”
Day also said that the effort is intended to focus on the parents of unvaccinated children, stating, “We are urging them, once again, now with the authority of law, to get your children vaccinated.”
While the point of the declaration is not to crack down on people who have not vaccinated their kids, parents who are found to have allowed their unvaccinated kids in public places during the 30-day prohibition can face up to six months in jail or fines of $500
Measles Outbreak in Rockland County
The declaration comes after unprecedented outbreaks in New York City, Rockland County, and Orange County, which the state’s health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker called “the worst measles outbreak in recent history in New York state.”
Following the initial reports in January, nearly two out of every three of all measles cases were in Rockland County, which had reported at least 105 cases at the time.
In response to the outbreak, Rockland closed more than two dozen schools and daycare centers that had low vaccination rates.
In order for vaccines to be effective, around 90 percent of people have to be vaccinated. In January, it was reported that some private schools in Rockland County had vaccination rates around 50 percent.
However, since January, the situation in Rockland has only gotten worse. As of Mar. 26, the county reported 153 confirmed cases of measles.
Of those confirmed cases, over 84 percent were 18 years and younger, and 82 percent of people infected had never received an MMR vaccination.
While some have said Rockland’s ban is extreme, the county has tried a wide variety of actions for months, and the outbreak has only spread more.
In addition to the executive order that pulled nearly 6,000 unvaccinated children out of schools, Rockland County has also administered nearly 17,000 doses of the MRR vaccine over the course of 26 weeks.
There was also a public health campaign during which community officials, doctors, and rabbis all testified about the importance of immunizations.
Rockland has increased their vaccination rate, but only 72.9 percent of kids between the ages of one and 18 are vaccinated in the county, according to Day.
Day also said that when county officials tried to trace the outbreak, members of the community dismissed them, refused to answer questions, and hung up their phones.
Many public health officials have said Rockland County’s actions make a lot of sense.
However, unsurprisingly, the ban of unvaccinated children in public spaces has already received some backlash.
The outbreak is more widespread in the Orthodox Jewish community, which has a lower vaccination rate, according to Day.
A Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, who founded a yeshiva in Rockland, said while he strongly supports vaccinations, he was also concerned the declaration could lead to potential harassment and discrimination against ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Some public health law experts are also concerned that the declaration infringes on civil liberties.
Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, questioned whether or not the move was constitutional.
“This is virtually imprisonment of a child, and certainly significantly restricting the child’s liberty,” said Gostin.
However, similar decisions in Rockland have been upheld in other cases.
Back in December, Rockland banned unvaccinated students from schools where less than 95 percent of the students were vaccinated. A group of parents responded by suing the county health department, but a federal judge ruled the school ban could stay earlier this month.
That said, this constitutional argument could be persuasive to anti-vaccination groups that would want to challenge the declaration, even if it only is for 30 days.
This is significant because Day has said he believes Rocklands ban is the first of its kind the US, and a number of public health experts have backed up that claim.
If Rockland’s prohibition works, it could set an example for other counties and states.
“I think this definitely could be a new trend as we have more unvaccinated children,” said Leila Barraza, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona’s Zuckerman College of Public Health. “If there’s evidence this has worked, then I think it will probably be tried again.”
For more information about measles visit the CDC’s website.
SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section
- The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June.
- The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
- Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary.
- It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.
College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay
College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.
Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”
The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary.
While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S.
Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.
With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.
The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test
In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.
In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.
According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.
For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban
- President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
- Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
- The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions.
Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban
President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.
Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”
It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead.
Biden To Block Trump’s Order
Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.
“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.
“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.
With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect.
It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.
Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.
See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)
New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns
- The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
- The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
- The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.
CDC Issues Warning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus.
The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.
Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.
Mitigating Spread of Variant
“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”
The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.
“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.
“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”