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Measles Outbreak Prompts Rockland County State Of Emergency, Ban On Unvaccinated Kids In Public

NEW CITY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - A state of emergency is being declared in Rockland County due to the measles outbreak.

The move comes after 153 people there contracted the virus, most of them children.

Now the county is taking swift an serious action to try and stop the disease in its tracks.

People under the age of 18 who are not vaccinated for measles will not be allowed in places of public assembly, including shops, schools and houses of worship.

The ban is in effect for 30 days, or until they get the vaccination.

Watch: Rockland County Officials On Measles State Of Emergency

"We will not sit idly by while children of our community are at risk. This is a public health crisis, and it is time to sound the alarm and take the appropriate action," said Rockland County Executive Ed Day.

He called the move an "attention grabber."

It begins at midnight tonight.

The goal is to keep unvaccinated people from from encountering the measles virus, which can live for hours on hard surfaces.

"Here in Rockland County we have now entered our 26th week of this measles outbreak. This is nearly six months of investigating cases, holding clinics, and giving vaccinations," Day said. "To be honest, without their efforts, this outbreak would have far, far worse. By the numbers, last year, not just one, but seven unvaccinated travelers diagnosed with measles entered our county between Oct. 1 and Oct. 17, leading to 153 confirmed cases. And this is the longest outbreak in the U.S. due to measles since the disease was officially eradicated in 2000."

Eighty four percent of the victims in Rockland County are under the age of 18.

Web Extra: Read the State of Emergency Declaration (.pdf)

"We need total participation in this effort to protect all our residents, particularly the most vulnerable members of the public: Infants, the elderly, and the immuno-compromised," said Kate Johnson Southern of the Rockland County Health Department.

The outbreak is centered in the Hasidic community. Health experts have traced the measles to people who visited Israel and Ukraine.

Day also took issue with the way some of his inspectors who are trying to track where infected persons may have visited have been treated.

"As this outbreak has continued, our inspectors have begun to meet increasing resistance from those they are trying to protect. We are seeing more and more instances of infected minor unvaccinated people going to places like the Palisades Center Mall which has thousands of people go back and forth through their doors. Our health inspectors have been hung up upon or told not to call again. They've been told 'We're not discussing this, do not come back' when visiting the homes of infected individuals as part of their investigations. This type of response is unacceptable and frankly irresponsible.  It endangers the health and well being of others and displays a shocking lack of responsibility and concern for others in our community," Day said.

Reaction to the county executive's emergency order was mixed.

"I think it's a great idea. If you're not going to vaccinate your kids, sit home," said Rockland resident Alexa Rosenfeld.

"It seems really draconian and I don't know how they would possibly enforce it. If it's unenforceable it just seems like a virtue signal. I don't know how it could actually work to help stop it," said Rockland resident Joshua Gold.

Day says it's not about prosecuting people, but persuading them to get vaccinated.

"I am very hopeful that the step we are taking now, which has never been done - as far as we know - across the nation, will get the attention of many," Day said.

The Department of Health will be holding free MMR vaccinations Wednesday afternoon from 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. on the second floor of building A of the Robert Yeager Health Center.

"This is an opportunity for everyone in the community to do the right thing for their neighbors and come together. That's what this is about now. We must do everything in our power to end this outbreak and protect the health of those who can not be vaccinated for medical reasons and that of children too young to be vaccinated," Day said.

For more information on the cases in Rockland County, click here. For more information about the measles, click here.

Residents with questions can call 1-888-364-4837, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m-5 p.m.

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