- 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.
Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan
The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”
Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify
A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.
Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts.
Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”
“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”
Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation
Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.
“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote.
“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”
Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”
“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”
Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.
See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)
Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.
In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.
New Cases Flattening
After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.
Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days.
New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.
Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.
Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.
According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.
In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.
Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit.
While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country.
Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)
COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open
While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.
Schools Respond to Omicron Surge
U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.
According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.
That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.
Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.
In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.
Teachers Protest In-Person Learning
Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.
One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).
Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.
On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.
Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”
Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.
On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.