(NewsNation) — The U.S. will declare monkeypox a public health emergency following growing concern over the rapidly spreading virus, according to federal health officials.
“We urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Javier Becerra said Thursday.
The recent decision follows three states who announced their own public health emergencies in the past week.
The soon-to-be-announced declaration will allow health authorities to speed up the distribution of the monkeypox vaccine which has been slow to rollout up to this point.
In California, New York and Illinois the previously announced emergency declarations will help local health officials expand and better coordinate resources to combat the virus that’s hit the three states especially hard since it first arrived stateside in May.
Declaring an emergency will allow the states to:
- Provide health departments with additional funding
- Expand capacity for testing and treatment
- Coordinate their response with federal and local authorities
As of Aug. 3, more than 6,600 monkeypox cases have been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nationwide — a number that has grown exponentially over the past month.
Cases have been identified in all but two states around the country and of those, nearly half are in just three states, where emergency declarations are now in place:
- New York: 1,748 cases (As of Aug. 4)
- California: 1,135 cases (As of Aug. 2)
- Illinois: 571 cases (As of Aug. 4)
Unlike COVID-19, which can be spread via face-to-face conversations, monkeypox is primarily spread through close skin-to-skin contact, which includes hugging and kissing but also shared bedding and clothing. For that reason, it’s considered much less contagious than coronavirus.
But the slow response from the federal government and recent uptick in cases has local leaders calling for additional resources.
“We are at a very scary place. And we don’t want to be ignored by the federal government in our need,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who declared a health emergency at the city level last week.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide emergency declaration will expand the number of personnel who are allowed to administer federally approved monkeypox vaccines, which have proven to be highly effective against the virus.
In San Francisco, where the 368 monkeypox cases account for nearly one-third of the state’s total, city officials have continually pressed the federal government for additional doses.
Last week, U.S. health regulators said more than 800,000 monkeypox vaccines would soon become available for distribution after weeks of delays.
Data from the California Department of Public Health shows monkeypox is spreading especially fast among gay men, who account for more than 90% of the state’s cases where the person’s sexual orientation is known.
But that trend has also led to misunderstandings and stigma associated with the virus, specifically, the misconception that monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease or that it’s only being spread by certain groups of people.
“No single individual or community is to blame for the spread of any virus. Monkeypox can affect anyone as it spreads by skin-to-skin contact, as well as from sharing items like clothing, bedding and towels,” California Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón said in a statement.
Several monkeypox cases in the U.S. have already been reported among women and children.
Although nobody in the United States has died from the disease, it can cause extremely painful skin lesions, exhaustion and fever.
Due to the short supply of vaccines, health departments are limiting vaccines to those considered most at risk. In New York, you can find information about how to get vaccinated here. You can find additional information for San Francisco here and for Los Angeles here.
On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced a new monkeypox federal response team and appears set to declare a public health emergency according to multiple reports.
The World Health Organization has declared the monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries a global emergency.