New York Officials Ban Unvaccinated Kids from All Public Spaces & Will Jail or Fine Parents $500


Kids playing in a ball pit

As a rash of measles outbreaks continue to threaten many parts of the country, one New York county is taking a drastic stand. Rockland County, which sits along the Hudson River in the Empire State, has officially banned unvaccinated minors from so much as stepping foot in public spaces -- effective immediately.

  • The announcement was made Tuesday by John Lyon, director of strategic communications for County Executive Ed Day. And it's pretty serious stuff.

    "We're not punishing the people who are doing the right thing already and following the rules. We just want to encourage everyone to do the right thing so we can stop this outbreak," Lyon said. He added that the move is "extremely unusual," and that officials "don't believe it's been done anywhere in the country before."

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  • Still, public health officials seem to think they have no choice in the matter, given the severity of the circumstances.

    According to Lyon, this is the sixth month in a row Rockland County has been battling the outbreak -- making it the longest one on record in the United States since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. So far, 153 cases have been confirmed in the county since the outbreak was first reported in October.

    "State law gives health departments authority to broadly implement control measures in response to outbreaks," said Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in an email to CNN. Additionally, he noted that the CDC provides state and local health departments with the technical assistance needed to carry out such measures.

    According to Lyon, the ban will be enforced the same as all other laws. CNN notes that if during the investigation into how a new individual was exposed, someone unvaccinated was found to have been in a public place, officials will refer them to the district attorney.

  • As for what constitutes a "public space," officials say it's any space where "10 or more people intend to congregate."

    In other words, churches, synagogues, malls, playgrounds, and even schools are off-limits for unvaccinated children younger than 18 who may pose a public health risk to society. The order does not apply to children who have begun their vaccinations but are not yet fully vaccinated against measles because of their age.

    It should be noted that the ban is only for those unvaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella, and it will be lifted once they receive the vaccine -- or in 30 days, which is when the temporary ban expires. Additionally, NBC News reports that any children with documented medical exemptions are not impacted by the ban, and it only relates to indoor spaces versus a playground, park, or other outdoor gathering space.

  • The news comes just one week after a judge blocked 42 unvaccinated children from returning to their Rockland County school.

    The students had all been banned from attending Green Meadow Waldorf School since December, after the severity of the measles outbreak raised growing concerns. Their parents contested the case in court, but last week, District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti ruled to uphold the ban, citing, "the plaintiffs have not demonstrated that public interest weighs in favor of granting an injunction."

    According to reports, the students' parents left court last week feeling a mixture of both defeat and outrae. But as Rockland County Attorney Thomas Humbach told the Journal News, the court and local government has to consider public safety above all else. 

    “We have had success, but this case is not over," Humbach said. "While no one enjoys the fact that these kids are out of school, these orders have worked; they have helped prevent the measles outbreak from spreading to this school population."

  • Anyone who attempts to defy the new public spaces ban might want to think twice, because the consequences are pretty significant.

    In his announcement, Day said violators could face six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. Yet it seems that most of all, he hopes the declaration will be an "attention grabber" -- one that makes parents realize the severity of the situation, in a county where nearly one-quarter of children 1 to 18 years old are unvaccinated.

    He also urges the public to remember that measles is a highly contagious disease, which is often life-threatening. In fact, before the MMR vaccine was developed, measles claimed the lives of an estimated 400 to 500 Americans each year, according to the CDC.

    Even more alarming is how easily it can be transmitted: airborne particles, droplets, and direct contact with any respiratory secretions of a person who's infected. It poses the greatest risks to young children, pregnant women, and those who are immunocompromised, and it typically presents itself as a fever or rash on the face that then spreads to the rest of the body.