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  • Eric Santomauro-Stenzel

Gov. Hochul Declares Polio State of Emergency

ALBANY, NY - New York State Governor Kathy Hochul (D) declared a state of emergency in response to the polio outbreak in NY this past Friday, September 9th. Since the outbreak began in late July, the first time the virus had been found in the state in a decade, the paralytic polio virus has been found in wastewater in four counties and New York City. Oneida County has not announced any polio cases. Health officials have urged vaccination as a critical defense to the virus, which causes 1 in 100 people to become paralyzed. Students who attend public school in NY are required to be vaccinated against polio, but many states offer exemptions for “religious” and “personal” beliefs. Hochul’s emergency declaration comes a little over a month after her emergency declaration for monkeypox in July.

Hamilton College does not currently require the polio vaccination for incoming students but does provide exemption forms for other vaccinations on the basis of religion and individual health. The Health Center has not released a statement on the polio outbreak, but Barbara Fluty, Director of Student Health Services, released a statement on August 2 about the spread of monkeypox that read in part, “The Health Center is preparing in the event that Hamilton experiences a case of monkeypox on campus and will share its specific operations plan should that become necessary.”

"On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice," State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a 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. Polio immunization is safe and effective – protecting nearly all people against disease who receive the recommended doses. Do not wait to vaccinate. If you are unsure of you or your families' vaccination status, contact a healthcare provider, clinic, or local county health department to make sure you and your loved ones receive all recommended doses."

“Vaccines protect us all from serious diseases,” read an August 10th statement from the Oneida County Health Department. “Recently, a county in New York State had a reported case of polio, a disease that is prevented through vaccines. It should be a reminder that vaccine-preventable diseases are still a threat. Vaccination is the best protection.”

The closest county to Oneida County where polio has been found in wastewater is Sullivan County, not far from New York City. According to the NYS Department of Health, 75.95% of Oneida County residents are vaccinated.

This outbreak comes as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that Oneida County and almost every other county in the state have high community transmission of Covid-19. Hochul also lifted masking requirements in the NYC subway system last week, two days before declaring the polio emergency.

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