Five more ultra-Orthodox schools have been cited by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for letting unvaccinated children attend classes, in flagrant violation of an order put in place in December to hinder the spread of measles.
The schools, like the one cited last month, are all in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which has been the epicenter of the measles outbreak that has so far sickened 158 New Yorkers, including 137 children.
“The outbreak is not over, and we will continue to see additional cases as long as unvaccinated students are not properly excluded from attending school,” Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said in a statement.
Health Department investigators based their conclusions by comparing immunization records with school attendance records. None of the schools have been fined, but could face monetary damages if they’re found to still be disobeying city orders during future audits, according to the Health Department.
New York state law normally requires all students to be vaccinated for measles, as well as a number of other illnesses, in order to attend public or private school. But they permit exemptions for a valid religious or medical reason.
In December, however, the health department issued an emergency order prohibiting ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools in zip codes where the virus was prevalent from allowing even exempted children in their buildings. Officials said the order would prevent the spread of measles.
More than 96 percent of children in the 133 yeshivas in the targeted zip codes are vaccinated, according to 2017-2018 state records. (Another 7,000 have received shots since the outbreak began.) But that’s lower than in public schools, where the rate is 99.3 percent.
Among ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn (also known as Haredi), an anti-vaccination hotline and publication have been fueling fears about the supposed dangers of vaccines.
The five schools the health department said violated the order are: Bnos Square of Williamsburg, Bnos Chayil (Wythe Avenue), Bnos Chayli (Hughes Street), Tiferes Bnos Children, and Simche Kinder.
The person who answered the phone at Tiferes Bnos said they didn’t have time to comment and hung up. Administrators at the other four schools have not returned requests for comment.
At three of the five schools, according to health inspectors, not just unvaccinated but contagious children went to class, though it’s not clear yet if they triggered additional cases. The incubation period for measles is up to 21 days, so more children may have been infected and have not shown symptoms yet, officials said.
A number Jewish leaders say they support the health department’s order keeping the non-vaccinated students out of yeshivas.
“Everyone that does not adhere this policy is violating the very basic Jewish principal of protecting one’s health and protecting someone else’s health,” said Rabbi Simcha Scholar. “They do not have the right to endanger other children.”
Scholar is chief executive officer Chai Lifeline, a group that works with children with cancer in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, who are particularly vulnerable to measles and severe complications that come with it.
Last month, the health department announced another school, Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov Pupa, had disobeyed its orders. Now officials have linked an additional 42 measles cases to that school, 28 of whom caught it there, plus another 14 who caught the virus second-hand.
Since the measles outbreak began last October, 11 people have been hospitalized and one child needed intensive care. No one has died.
Gwynne Hogan is an associate producer at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @GwynneFitz.