With the polio virus detected in the wastewater from North Hempstead in Nassau County, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state disaster emergency.
The protocol allows EMS workers, midwives and pharmacists to administer polio vaccines and allows doctors to issue standing orders for the vaccine. Data on immunizations will be used to focus vaccination efforts where they’re needed the most.
“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a prepared statement. “If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real. I urge New Yorkers to not accept any risk at all.”
A contagious, life-threatening disease, polio can impact the nervous system and lead to paralysis or in serious cases, even death. While there is no cure for polio, it is preventable through safe and effective vaccination.
Right now, officials say there are no identified cases in Nassau.
“I don’t want to alarm anybody, there are no cases of polio that has been discovered here in this region or in Nassau County,” Bruce Blakeman, the Nassau County executive, told reporters on Friday. “Nobody should panic, there is no crisis right now, there is no active case of polio in Nassau County.”
The sample that was detected in Nassau County is genetically linked to the polio case from Rockland County and provides further evidence of expanding community spread, state health officials said. The polio virus had previously been detected in wastewater in New York City and three counties to its north: Rockland, Orange and Sullivan.
Still, Blakeman said, officials are “being very, very cautious and monitoring the situation.”
“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a prepared statement. “If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real. I urge New Yorkers to not accept any risk at all.”
The newest detection may indicate community spread. At this time, the only confirmed case of polio in New York State is in an unvaccinated resident of Rockland County.
Health officials said all unvaccinated New York residents — including children by 2 months of age, pregnant people and those who haven’t completed their vaccine series — should get immunized immediately. They also urged boosters for certain people, such as healthcare workers in affected areas who treat patients who might have polio.
The statewide polio vaccination rate is 79%, but the counties of Rockland, Orange and Sullivan had lower rates. Nassau’s polio vaccination rate at 79.15% while Suffolk County’s rate is 79.14%, according to the most recent available data.
Officials have said that it is possible that hundreds of people in the state have gotten polio and don’t know it. Most people infected with polio have no symptoms but can still give the virus to others for days or weeks.
The New York State Department of Health has a microsite with more information about polio that you can access by clicking here.
The State Health Department is working with the Nassau County Health Department, the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention, local leaders and community partners to encourage anyone in the county who is not vaccinated, or not up to date with their vaccinations, to get all recommended doses.
“We need everyone’s help to increase the vaccination rate to protect everyone in our community,” New York State Sen. Anna Kaplan said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.