BillSigningWatch the full News Conference HERE.

September 24, 2019 - Westchester County Executive George Latimer signed a bill to strengthen the County Health Department’s ability to prevent the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Latimer said: “We hope that we will not face the threat of an infectious disease, but we must ensure that our Health Commissioner and our Board of Health will have the authority they need to protect us, based on professional public health decisions, and not the political decisions made under duress of a crisis.”

The amended law empowers the Westchester County Board of Health and the Commissioner of Health to issue orders, adopt provisions of the health code and take other measures to prevent the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases. The law goes into effect immediately.

Latimer continued: “This is not a debate over vaccinations. This is not the expansion of vaccinations. I invite anyone to get the actual law that was voted on unanimously by the Board, read it and you will see very clearly what it does and does not say.”

Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler, MD; County Legislator Alfreda Williams, who is a Board of Health member; and County Health Department physicians, nurses and staff at the County Health Department Clinic in White Plains, joined Latimer.

Amler said: “This allows us to be proactive and not to have to wait to declare a state of emergency to take action in case of an emerging infectious disease. The measles outbreak brought to light a shortcoming in our Code that could prohibit the Board of Health from acting in a timely manner, and this bill corrects that.”

Board of Legislators Vice Chair Alfreda Williams said: “It is so very important for our Health Department to get out in front of unexpected outbreaks of infectious diseases, especially when they appear to be happening more frequently.  These changes to the law give our public health officials the legal resources they need to act quickly and effectively to keep Westchester residents safe.”

Supervising Public Health Nurse of Clinic Operations Lori Smittle said: “As nurses, we are all about prevention. This bill will help us to prevent an outbreak by allowing us to act very quickly during an emergency situation.”

Dr. Amler and the Board of Health sought the change to improve their ability to limit the spread of disease, following the largest statewide measles outbreak in decades.