Measles, Currently the Most Contagious Virus and the Misinformation Spread to Insular Communities

FEAR, MISINFORMATION, AND MEASLES SPREAD IN BROOKLYN

IT WAS OCTOBER 31, a balmy day in Brooklyn, and Alexander Arroyo was walking around his neighborhood dressed as an octopus, pushing his 2-month-old daughter in a carriage, as his wife chased their toddler through the after-school Halloween trick-or-treat crowd. As the family filled their bags with candy, Arroyo’s phone rang and he stopped to answer it, trying to hear over the din of excited children. Arroyo is the director of the pediatric emergency department at one of the biggest hospitals in Brooklyn, Maimonides Medical Center, and two days earlier, a 15-month-old girl had come to the ER with a fever and a rash. He’d been waiting for a call to confirm the diagnosis, and this was it. The test had come back positive: The girl had measles.

 

WHEN THE GIRL had arrived at the ER, she was put in a busy area, where children with earaches or broken arms typically sit. No one suspected measles, because, thanks to routine childhood vaccination, the disease was declared eliminatedin the United States in 2000. Although there had been localized outbreaks since then—among the Amish in Ohio, visitors to Disneyland in California, and the Somali American community in Minnesota—neither Arroyo nor most of his staff had seen a case firsthand. Suspecting ­measles was like thinking “maybe that’s a unicorn,” Arroyo says. “It doesn’t really cross your mind, because measles shouldn’t exist anymore.”

Still, several measles cases had been reported in a different part of Brooklyn. And after a few hours, Arroyo’s team began to worry that the child in their care might be another. They put a mask over her face and wheeled her into an isolation room, with two sets of doors and air circulating under negative pressure to prevent airborne particles from escaping.

By then, however, “the bomb had gone off,” Arroyo says. Measles is considered one of the most contagious diseases in existence. If a person with measles walks through a room with a hundred people who are not immunized, up to 90 of them will get the disease. The virus is spread through coughs and sneezes and lingers in the air for up to two hours. Some 122,000 ­people come through the Maimonides emergency room every year. The hospital, located in Borough Park, serves one of the most diverse patient populations in the country, from ultra-Orthodox Jews to immigrants whose first language might be Mandarin, Russian, Hindi, Punjabi, Arabic, or Uzbek. Many are working-class cab drivers, manual laborers, and restaurant workers who bring their children to the ER at night, when their shifts are done.

Dr. Alexander Arroyo in the waiting room of Maimonides Medical Center.

NATALIE KEYSSAR

Standing in the street that Halloween, Arroyo thought about the dozens of patients who might have been exposed—in the waiting room, the hallway, the exam rooms—from the time the girl came into the hospital until she was placed in isolation. He looked down at his daughter in the carriage, dressed as a clown fish, and thought, “She’s not vaccinated.” She was still too young, as were other babies who might have been in the ER. He knew that his team would have to figure out right away who, exactly, had been breathing the same air as the infected girl. He waved down his wife, who had been making her way down the street with their toddler, and asked her to take the baby carriage. Then he headed home to make phone calls. “I saw my life falling into a pit of measles,” he says.

Arroyo is an amateur kickboxer, lanky and athletic. He hurried down the street, talking by phone with the hospital’s infection-control nurse and mapping out a plan. At home he changed out of the octopus costume and logged on to the hospital’s electronic medical records to check what time, exactly, the girl with measles had entered the ER. He called the other doctors who had been on duty to see if they remembered any pregnant mothers or immunocompromised children who would have been especially at risk.

He also called the hospital’s IT department to help backtrack through medical charts. His team generated names of 55 children who had potentially been exposed to the disease, then asked the New York City Department of Health to cross-reference it with vaccination records. For the MMR vaccine (against measles, mumps, and rubella) to be effective, the immune system has to be mature enough to produce antibodies to the virus. Young babies’ immune systems are not sufficiently developed, so children generally receive an MMR vaccine at 1 year old and another at age 4 or 5; those who had come through the hospital but had not completed both doses were considered at risk.

On the Maimonides list were a 12-month-old, a 10-month-old, and three babies younger than 6 months, including one who was just 17 days old. All were vulnerable, and Arroyo realized he was already running out of time. To prevent infection, the children needed to receive MMR shots within 72 hours, and young babies would have to be given immunoglobulin, a form of temporary protection, within six days. The infection-control nurse began making calls to those babies’ parents.

 

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Williamsburg, Brooklyn and a Passover Plague – Get Your Children Vaccinated or Don’t Attend Seders with Others

Signs warn of the dangers of a persistent measles outbreak in Williamsburg.

A measles outbreak is dividing families in this Orthodox Jewish community. Passover could make it worse

 

New York (CNN)As one of the holiest Jewish celebrations of the year arrives, families in the Hasidic section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, face a dilemma.

“Say you have six kids that want to come to the Seder, with all the grandchildren,” said Eli Banash, 32, a member of the Orthodox community who works in Williamsburg.

“Grandmother wants everybody to come. One family didn’t vaccinate the kids. Five did. The five families are saying, ‘We’re not coming unless they don’t come!’ With Passover, it’s going to intensify.”

persistent measles outbreak has hit this ultra-Orthodox enclave and led city officials to declare a public health emergency.

Passover, which begins at sundown Friday and ends April 27, marks the Exodus story from the Bible and is celebrated with large gatherings and ceremonial meals. But community leaders and health officials fear the holiday may further fuel the spread of the highly contagious disease.

Already, 359 cases of measles have been confirmed in Brooklyn and Queens since October, mostly in Williamsburg. The outbreak began when, according to health officials, an unvaccinated child became infected with the illness while visiting Israel.

“The concern is that with Passover and increased travel, we’re going to be putting more people at risk,” said New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot.

Across the country, measles cases have jumped to the second-highest level in a quarter century, with 555 cases confirmed in 20 states, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Because of measles’ long incubation period, we know this outbreak will get worse before it gets better,” Barbot said in a statement this week.

A pamphlet directed at Orthodox communities helped fuel the fear of vaccines

In Hasidic Williamsburg, bearded men walk hurriedly in long frock coats crowned by black hats. Women in ankle-length skirts push strollers on crowded sidewalks and Hasidic boys with spiraling side curls dart through the streets in bunches.

In an insular community where some don’t take kindly to intrusion, residents blame the outbreak largely on a hardline minority opposed to vaccinations, or anti-vaxers. The close-knit neighborhood — where residents explain the insularity as a way of preserving the community’s identity — has seen heightened tension in some families, especially as Passover preparations got underway.

Blima Marcus, a nurse and past president of the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association, has been holding small workshops with the nurses in Brooklyn and New Jersey to educate members of the ultra-Orthodox community who are fearful of vaccines.

The fears were fueled in part by a slick 40-page booklet being distributed in Orthodox enclaves about the dangers of vaccines. The booklet is directly aimed at the Orthodox community, partly written in Hebrew and filled with snippets from the Torah. Yet Marcus and Orthodox Jewish leaders say there is nothing in Jewish law that prohibits vaccinations.

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Playing with Human Life, Biological Warfare and the Ultra-Orthodox – Lawsuit for the Right Harm Others

Biological warfare: Williamsburg residents sue city for right to not vaccinate

Five Williamsburg residents are fighting for the right to not vaccinate themselves and their children amid a growing measles outbreak in Brooklyn, filing suit against the Department of Health in an effort to quash an emergency health declaration that slaps unvaccinated locals with stiff fines.

The plaintiffs, who filed a complaint in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Monday, argued that the roughly 300 known cases of the potentially fatal illness do not justify the city’s decision to override their religious objections to the MMR vaccine, according to their lawyer.

“We don’t think the so-called ‘outbreak’ has reached a level that requires the extreme response of forcing vaccinatio­ns,” said Robert Krakow, a Manhattan attorney specializing in vaccine injury lawsuits.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and city Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot announced on April 9 that unvaccinated residents of four Williamsburg zip codes — where some 250 of the total 285 measles cases had been identified — would be subject to fines of up to $1,000 in response to the outbreak, which has exclusively affected members of the borough’s Orthodox Jewish communities.

And while Krakow’s clients represent a mix of Jewish and Gentile Williamsburg residents, they all object to vaccination on religious grounds and claim the city’s latest move to stem the virus’ spread constitutes a gross overreaction, and that less drastic measures, such as quarantining infected individuals, should have been explored first.

“We don’t think the city should be in the business of forcing people to vaccinate,” said Krakow. “Quarantine can be imposed for the people with active infections.”

The measles virus can be contagious for weeks before symptoms show, and the attorney said he was not aware that several Williamsburg yeshiva’s had been cited by the city for admitting unvaccinated students amid an ongoing exclusion order, including one school where more than 20 students were infected, according to the Health Department.

The plaintiffs further allege that measles can be actually be contracted and spread by the inoculation, and that vaccinating “[enhances] the risk of harm to the public” through a process referred to as viral shedding.

“That’s something that happens, and we don’t know a lot about it,” Krakow said.

Viral shedding refers to the process by which viruses spread, but is a term used by members of the anti-vaccination movement to propagate the myth that vaccines cause outbreaks, according to a Science-Based Medicine report.

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Measles Traced to One Williamsburg, New York Yeshiva – WNYC News

A health care worker prepares syringes, including a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), for a child's inoculations at the International Community Health Services Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019
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New York City’s health department has tracked 21 newly identified measles cases back to one yeshiva in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, officials said Thursday.

Those cases, plus an additional five this week, bring the number of people sickened during the outbreak up to 121 cases since October, the city’s largest outbreak of the highly contagious virus in nearly 30 years, officials said.

No one has died during the current outbreak. Eight children have been hospitalized, and one child who has since recovered was in the intensive care unit, according to the health department.

Since mid-December, when the health department issued an order requiring all children within certain Williamsburg and Borough Park zip codes to stay home from school if they weren’t vaccinated for measles, three schools have been found in violation, according to the health department.

In the case of one school, Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov on Wilson Street, a child without vaccines who had the measles but wasn’t symptomatic and attended school in mid-January, spreading the virus to others. The school couldn’t be reached for comment right away. As of last school year, 92.7 percent of children were immunized for measles, according to the most recent data from the state health department.

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184 Kent, Kushner Companies and $10M Lawsuit – Williamsburg Condo Coversion

Kushner Companies hit with $10M lawsuit over Williamsburg condo conversion

A 19-plaintiff lawsuit alleges harassment in the form of construction work and potential lead poisoning

UPDATE 7/16/2018: The Cuomo administration has directed its tenant protection unit to investigate the allegations of tenant harassment at Austin Nichols House.

“Governor Cuomo has zero tolerance for tenant abuse of any kind and we will aggressively take on landlords who try to intimidate people out of their homes,” said RuthAnne Visnauskas, the Commissioner of the New York State Homes and Community Renewal, the agency that the Tenant Protection Unit is a part of. “In New York, no one is above the law, and we will thoroughly investigate the appalling allegations of harassment at this or any related property and hold anyone found guilty of such abuse responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”


Kushner Companies’s conversion of the rental building at 184 Kent Avenue into luxury condos is in hot water yet again; a group of 19 current and former residents of the building, with the help of the Housing Rights Initiative and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, are set to file a lawsuit against the development firm alleging “illegal, destructive, and dangerous construction practices.”

The tenants allege that ever since Kushner Companies purchased this 338-unit property three years ago, they’ve pursued a relentless effort to drive the rent-stabilized tenants out of the building. The Associated Press first broke the news of the alleged tenant harassment; their own investigation revealed that over 75 percent of the building’s apartments were emptied or sold since Kushner Companies took over. That’s a much higher turnover than most rent-stabilized building conversions, according to the AP, and so far the developer has made $155 million from the sale of the market-rate condos at the building.

Construction wrapped in December 2017, but prior to that, tenants at the building said they had to contend with loud construction noise from early in the morning to late at night; dust from all the drilling; rodents; and construction workers barging into apartments unannounced.

An analysis of nine apartments at the building, conducted by an independent lab, revealed high levels of lead and crystalline silica—the latter has been linked to lung cancer and liver disease.

A representative for Kushner Companies told the AP that that was an updated version of an old report prepared for the building. The company also acknowledged that it had received some construction complaints, but that they dealt with it immediately. Furthermore, inspections conducted by the city’s Department of Buildings did not reveal any violation of construction laws, according to the AP.

Still, the experiences of former and current tenants do not match up to this, and this $10 million lawsuit is a result of that. Construction at the Austin Nichols House, as this building is now known, also came under scrutiny in the summer of 2016 when a series of mysterious fires were reported at the building.

A spokesperson for Kushner Companies issued the following statement to Curbed:

The lawsuit filed today by certain current and former tenants of Austin Nichols House is totally without merit and we intend to defend it vigorously. The residents of Austin Nichols House were fully informed about the planned renovation and all work was completed under the full supervision by the New York City Department of Buildings and other regulatory agencies, with full permits and with no violations for these claims. Tenants were never pressured to leave their apartments and the market-rate rent stabilization was – and continues to be – complied with under applicable rent guidelines. Any complaints during construction (which was completed in 2017) were evaluated and addressed promptly by the property management team. The property management team is committed to continuing to meet the needs of all residents.

184 Kent

184 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211

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And Who are We Calling Racist Thugs? Mayer Heskovic Decision Overturned.

Verdict Overturned In Case of Hasidic Jewish Man Convicted in Brutal Gang Beating of Black Fashion Student

A Hasidic man sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the brutal gang attack on a Black fashion student in Brooklyn, New York, is walking free of all charges after a state appeals court on Wednesday tossed out his guilty verdict.

Mayer Herskovic was found guilty at his non-jury trial in September 2016 of gang assault and related charges after he and a gang of Hasidic neighborhood watch members jumped victim Taj Patterson, beating the fashion student so badly that he was left blinded in one eye.

Recalling the vicious 2013 attack in Williamsburg, Patterson testified that Herskovic shoved a thumb in his eye and that one of his eye sockets was fractured after the gang chased and attacked him as he walked to the subway station. Judges for the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department ruled, however, that Patterson’s testimony was shaky at times and did not prove without a reasonable doubt that Herskovic was his attacker.

“Mayer is overjoyed,” Herskovic’s attorney, Donna Aldea, said. “The decision means that, for all intents and purposes, he is innocent.”

The case unfolded Dec. 1, 2013, when Patterson, then 22, was headed to the subway after a night out drinking with friends. That’s when a group of Hasidic men, some of them part of a neighborhood patrol group called the Shomrim, ruthlessly beat him, all because of a false claim that Patterson was out vandalizing cars, The New York Times reported.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office originally charged five men in connection with the attack, but prosecutors dropped charges against two of the assailants and let the other two plead guilty to lesser crimes, avoiding jail time. Herskovic was the only one to take his case to trial, where he was ultimately convicted.

Upending the conviction, appellate judges noted in their decision that Patterson had failed to positively identify his assailants and pointed to the victim’s contradictory accounts of the attack.

“Notably, the complainant and others who testified at trial gave conflicting accounts of the assault,” judges wrote. “Among other things, the complainant testified that the person who pulled off his sneaker was the same person who shoved a thumb in his eye. He referred to this person as the ‘ringleader’ and one of the men who’d initially chased him. However, he also testified that the person he identified as the ringleader wasn’t the defendant.”

Moreover, jurists argued that the DNA evidence initially used to convict Herskovic was “less than convincing” and didn’t definitively point to him as Patterson’s attacker.

“We respect the court’s decision,” said Oren Yaniv, a spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

As for Patterson, he told The New York Post by phone he needed “time to process” the ruling and refused to comment further.

It’s unclear if the DA’s office plans to convene another grand jury, however, prosecutors would have to secure a fresh indictment in order to retry to the case at all, according to the newspaper.

Law enforcement officials said Wednesday’s ruling means it’s likely no one will ever serve jail time for the brutal attack on Patterson.

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