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Biden administration declares monkeypox a public health emergency, California cases surge

Sacramento Bee - 8/4/2022

The Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency on Thursday, allowing for faster mobilization against the rapid spread of the virus.

The United States has more cases of the virus that causes a rash of blisters and flu-like symptoms than any other nation. It primarily is affecting gay and bisexual men and transgender people, though anyone can be infected.

The last time the Department of Health and Human Services declared a national public health emergency was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. As public health emergencies expire every 90 days, the administration has continually renewed them for opioids and the coronavirus.

“We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters on Thursday and wrote on Twitter.

California is among the states with the most people infected, which prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency in response to the worsening monkeypox outbreak on Monday. New York and Illinois also have declared emergencies over the virus.

California, with 826 cases as of Thursday, trails New York, with 1,666, for the states with the highest number of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were more than 6,600 cases of monkeypox reported in the U.S.

Declaring a public health emergency allows federal agencies to funnel money into vaccines, drugs and testing, access emergency funding and hire more workers to curb the outbreak.

Monkeypox is rarely fatal; no deaths have been reported in the U.S. The disease spreads through close contact with an infected person or materials that capture respiratory droplets or bodily fluids, such as bed linens, that a person with monkeypox has used.

Vaccines are scarce in California and nationally as U.S. officials take steps to expedite shipment of doses. Supplies of the monkeypox vaccine, Jynneos, have been severely limited. Federal officials have been chastised for moving too slowly in getting and storing vaccines.

“Federal health officials repeatedly botched the acquisition of monkeypox vaccines. Gay & bi men are now paying the price,” State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, wrote on Twitter after Becerra declared the emergency on Thursday.

That’s why the public health emergency declaration is “important,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre contended with reporters on Thursday because it will “help accelerate vaccine production and distribution. This includes new dosing strategies that has the potential to increase the number of available doses five-fold.”

“We’ll continue to work with the federal government to secure more vaccines, raise awareness about reducing risk, and stand with the LGBTQ community fighting stigmatization,” Newsom said in declaring the state of emergency.

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern last month, the first virus to be designated at the highest level since the novel coronavirus in 2020.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden named an infectious disease specialist and emergency response official to coordinate a White House response to the virus. The official, Robert Fenton, is the American West regional administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agencywho has also served as its acting chief.

Before this outbreak, the first human case of monkeypox was detected in 1970, according to the CDC. The first resident found to have monkeypox in California this year was in May and had recently returned from international travel.

“We are going to do everything that we can to end this outbreak,” said Jean Pierrw. “That is our commitment.” .

McClatchy DC’s Michael Wilner and The Bee’s Lindsey Holden contributed to this story.

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