San Francisco and New York state declared public health emergencies on Thursday amid the growing outbreak of monkeypox, the latest in escalating measures in response to the rapidly spreading virus.
Monkeypox emergencies declared in San Francisco, New York
More than 40% of the nation’s 4,907 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported in California and New York.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) announced a local public health emergency on Thursday, noting that monkeypox cases had nearly doubled to 261 in a week. She said the move would mobilize resources, expedite contingency planning and allow future expenses to be reimbursed by state and federal governments.
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California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D), who had called for the emergency declaration, said the decision would facilitate the expansion of testing and vaccines and pressure the federal government to do so. take the epidemic more seriously.
“It’s a powerful statement to the country and the world about the need to act decisively and forcefully,” Wiener said in an interview.
After New York state recorded more than 1,200 cases, state health commissioner Mary T. Bassett declared an imminent threat to public health on Thursday, retroactive to June 1.
“This statement means that local health departments engaged in response and prevention activities will be able to access additional state reimbursement, after other federal and state funding sources are maximized, to protect all New -Yorkers and ultimately limit the spread of monkeypox in our communities,” Bassett said in a press release.
Monkeypox infections result in an illness that lasts for several weeks with symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash that can spread throughout the body. No deaths in the United States have been recorded, but some patients have reported severe pain from the lesions.
The epidemic has been overwhelmingly concentrated among men who have sex with men. Gay leaders such as Wiener and longtime HIV activists have urged health officials to act decisively to contain monkeypox and avoid repeating the mistakes of the AIDS crisis when the suffering of gay men was downplayed. and that the world did not act quickly. Vaccines are thought to be effective before and after exposure, and an antiviral approved for a closely related disease, smallpox, can be used to treat monkeypox.
Local officials, including Breed, say the vaccine supply is not sufficient to provide shots to everyone at high risk of exposure.
“Our declaration of emergency is meant to sound the alarm and make it very clear that we desperately need more vaccines and more treatments,” Breed said Thursday.
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Monkeypox is mainly spread through close contact, and experts say they believe skin-to-skin exposure during sexual activity is a major source of transmission in the current outbreak. But they warn the virus is spread through other forms of contact and can circulate outside the gay community, noting a handful of cases in women and children.
WHO officials have advised men who have sex with men to temporarily reduce their number of sexual partners in a bid to reduce transmission. The announcements from New York and San Francisco did not include containment measures or restrictions aimed at curbing the spread.
“We are not implementing behavioral restrictions or other measures like we have under COVID. It’s about having the resources and the ability to act quickly to deploy those resources,” Breed said in a post explaining the urgency.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday that officials have not made a decision on a declaration of a national emergency, noting that the virus has not yet become as formidable a threat as the coronavirus. Becerra touted the vaccines and treatments the Biden administration has continued to send to local health departments and providers, including about 800,000 doses that federal authorities have authorized to distribute this week.
“We will weigh any decision to declare a public health emergency based on the response we see across the country,” Becerra told reporters during a briefing. “Ultimately, we need to stay ahead of the curve and be able to end this outbreak.”
Federal officials have spent the week privately wrestling with whether to declare an emergency, with some senior health officials arguing that doing so would raise public awareness of the outbreak and allow for a more robust response, including forcing hospitals to report more data on patients with monkeypox.
But other health and White House officials raised questions about declaring an emergency in the United States, saying it would be mostly symbolic and create pressure to declare additional emergencies for other issues, such as abortion, which advocates have sought. HHS also continued to renew a 2½-year public health emergency declaration for the coronavirus amid calls from some conservatives to end it.
Dan Diamond contributed to this report.