The measles outbreak in Lakewood and the surrounding areas was declared over by the state and county health department.
Though significantly smaller in scale than still-active outbreaks in Orthodox communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County, New York, the spread of measles in Lakewood attracted wide attention and was met by a strong community response including mass vaccination campaigns and a crackdown by many area schools on immunization.
“It definitely takes a team effort to get through an epidemic of this extent,” said Daniel E. Regenye, Ocean County Health Department Public Health Coordinator. “We received tremendous support from the community-at-large and partnered with pediatricians, schools, administrators, health-care providers, the faith-based community and many other local groups throughout the outbreak, and each one played a vital role.”
The first case of the recent outbreak in the area was reported in Lakewood in mid-October. Since then, 33 cases were confirmed, with a large spike occurring at the end of December.
On Wednesday, the state Health Department said that because 42 days had passed since the last reported case was known to be infectious, the outbreak can be considered over. Forty-two days comprises two incubation periods.
Practically speaking, the main ramification of dropping the “outbreak” classification relates to a protocol previously encouraged by health officials that unvaccinated children be excluded from schools until the outbreak is over. The move was supported in an open letter signed by nearly all area pediatricians.
In November, the vast majority of Lakewood schools heeded their advice and barred non-immunized children from attending.
Soon after the spread of the highly contagious and potentially dangerous virus was reported, Ocean County Health officials launched a mass effort to make free MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) shots available to the public.
More than 3,000 individuals were vaccinated over the first two weeks of November, some in local doctors’ offices and many others at CHEMED health center or through the Ocean Health Initiative.
The present outbreak began in New Square immediately after Sukkos. Subsequently it spread to multiple Orthodox communities, including as far away as Chicago. Its spread has been linked to an ongoing measles epidemic in Eretz Yisrael, where nearly 2,000 cases have been confirmed.
In New York, the outbreak continues to grow. Brooklyn communities have had a total of 58 cases since October, with three new cases reported in Boro Park in the last week. Rockland County has been hardest hit, with a total of 114 cases, nine over the last week. Most of those who were infected several weeks or months ago have since recovered from the virus.
The Ocean County Health Department, responsible for Lakewood and surrounding areas, say that even as the outbreak has been deemed over, lingering and unreported cases could still persist.
Dr. Dovid Friedman, CEO of CHEMED, welcomed the outbreak’s cessation; however, he stressed that it is still important that those who received only one dose of the MMR vaccine get the second part of the series.
He emphasized the need for continued caution while the virus continues to spread in other communities.
“Although Lakewood is now considered to be free of a measles outbreak, we still have to keep a close vigil for potential new cases, as the outbreak is still officially ongoing in Rockland County, New York, and Brooklyn,” he told Hamodia. “The need to be vaccinated throughout the community cannot be stressed enough. The development and maintenance of herd immunity will hopefully prevent future outbreaks.”