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The latest move to fight measles: fines of $2,000 a day

"We will restrategize at every opportunity no matter what's thrown in front of us,” the New York county executive said.

by Emma Ockerman
Apr 17 2019, 2:37pm

The New York County making headlines for its measles outbreak is trying again to keep infected people at home.

Just two weeks after a judge struck down Rockland County’s first attempt at keeping all unvaccinated people out of public places during the outbreak, the county executive issued a new order on Tuesday: Anyone with measles will have to stay home, and anybody who has come in contact with them — often 30 to 50 people in each case — will have to keep out of public places or face a $2,000-a-day fine, according to the Rockland/Westchester Journal News.

That, County Executive Ed Day hopes, should stem the 186-and-counting measles cases since October. It’s unclear how many people would be immediately affected by the new rule.

The previous rule, issued March 26, applied to all unvaccinated people in Rockland County but primarily affected the vaccine-hesitant ultra-Orthodox Jewish population there. Parents sued, arguing the ban was “capricious,” kept their kids from getting an education, and that the outbreak didn’t amount to the severe emergency Day had outlined. Since the ban was overruled on April 5, though, the county of 329,000 has seen an additional 20 measles cases. The county has also appealed the judge’s decision.

In the meantime, the new order will also keep unvaccinated kids home from school if they reside in certain zip codes but will allow exceptions for children with religious or medical reasons for not receiving the highly effective measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

"We will restrategize at every opportunity no matter what's thrown in front of us,” Day said during a press conference announcing the decision. “We cannot afford to wait around and wait for a court.”

The revamped emergency order is less severe, still, to the one put in place by New York City last week, which applied only to Orthodox-Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. That order mandated all unvaccinated people get their shots or face a $1,000 fine. Parents have since sued the city, arguing the rule violates their religious liberties. Similar to the Rockland County lawsuit, parents also argue the outbreak didn’t rise to the level of an emergency, according to Fox News.

Through police powers granted to them by the constitution, states and cities have the ability to draw up their own mandatory vaccination programs as they see fit. That was reaffirmed in a Supreme Court ruling in the 1905 case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which determined the state could require its residents get the smallpox vaccine as long as it kept the public safe.

At the time, cities in Massachusetts fined people $5 if they failed to get vaccinated against smallpox during an outbreak. An unvaccinated pastor in Cambridge, Henning Jacobson, sued to appeal the $5 fine after he was found out, and the Supreme Court ruled the city was within its right.