California declares state of emergency as monkeypox spreads

Sacramento — California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Monday to tackle the outbreak of monkeypox, making it the third state in four days to ramp up the public health response to the fast-spreading disease.

The announcement followed similar measures taken by New York on Friday, Illinois on Monday, and the city of San Francisco on Thursday. New York Mayor Eric Adams also declared a local emergency on Monday.

“California is working urgently across all levels of government to slow the spread of monkeypox, leveraging our robust testing, contact tracing and strengthened community partnerships during the pandemic to ensure our focus on vaccines, treatment and awareness is most at risk,” Newsom said in a statement.

“We will continue to work with the federal government to secure more vaccines, raise awareness about risk reduction, and stand by the LGBTQ community in the fight against stigma,” he added.

The moves, which help simplify and coordinate the response to monkeypox among different levels of government, come amid a slight increase in infections as well as growing vocal complaints about the public health response.

Nearly 6,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported nationally since May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about half have been reported in California, Illinois and New York. The World Health Organization has already declared the virus a global health emergency.

No deaths have yet been reported in the United States, and monkeypox is rarely fatal, but the rash caused by the virus has resulted in severe pain in some patients. Health officials say the virus is spread primarily through prolonged physical contact, but it can also be transmitted through shared linens and clothing.

So far, MSM has made up about 99 percent of confirmed cases. Public health officials stress that the virus can spread to anyone who has long-term skin contact with someone who has the rash.

The number of cases in the United States is among the highest in the world, and health officials say the number is definitely an underestimate.

Federal health officials say they have yet to declare a national health emergency, in part because monkeypox is a known disease as tests, vaccines and treatments become available.

But as the virus spread and scientists gathered research, the emerging picture was a little more complex than in previous outbreaks, and the pressure for tougher action intensified.

Last week, President Biden’s health secretary urged states and municipalities to take more initiatives, noting that most US public health powers are focused at local levels.

“We don’t control public health in the 50 states, in the regions and in the tribal areas,” Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in response to a reporter’s question about whether the virus could be eradicated. “We depend on our partnership to work with them. They need to work with us.”

California’s emergency declaration will allow emergency medical services workers to administer federally approved monkeypox vaccines.

New York Governor Cathy Hochhol issued an emergency declaration Friday, saying the move would pressure federal health officials to send additional monkeypox vaccines to the state. On Monday, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker followed suit, calling monkeypox “a rare but potentially serious disease that requires the full mobilization of all available public health resources.”

Pritzker added that the effort would “ensure that the LGBTQ+ community has the resources they need to stay safe while ensuring that members are not stigmatized while accessing critical health care.”

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