In an announcement on Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California over the continuing monkeypox outbreak, becoming the second state in the U.S. to do so after New York.
Monkeypox, a virus that cause rashes, swollen glands, and fever amongst other symptoms that is also rarely deadly, had it’s first recorded cases in Africa in early May. While the U.S. did see some cases in May, the number of cases quickly grew in June and July. While anyone can get the virus through skin-to-skin contact, currently 98% of cases outside Africa have been reported by homosexual men, with 71% of cases being those who are white and 41% of cases happening to those with HIV/AIDS.
“Public health officials are clear: stigma is unacceptable and counterproductive in public health response,” noted County Health Executives Association of California executive director Michelle Gibbons. “The fact is that monkeypox is primarily spread by skin to skin contact and sharing objects like bedding or towels, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In California, monkeypox has particularly hurt gay communities, with the city of San Francisco alone accounting for one-third of all cases within the state and enacting a local public health emergency as a precaution. While growth has been slow but steady, with California reporting 799 total cases last Wednesday and 827 on Monday, the zeroed-in effect of monkeypox on the LGBT community and the possibility of mutations that could lead to more widespread effects and transmission by more people led Governor Newsom to declare a state of emergency on Monday. Specifically, Newsom hopes that the state of Emergency will help expand vaccine distribution by the California Department of Public Health and greater vaccine usage by Californians at-risk.
“California is working urgently across all levels of government to slow the spread of monkeypox, leveraging our robust testing, contact tracing and community partnerships strengthened during the pandemic to ensure that those most at risk are our focus for vaccines, treatment and outreach,” said Newsom in a statement on Monday. “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.
“Expanding the pool of eligible vaccinators will substantially aid current efforts and support anticipated further vaccination efforts upon receipt of additional doses from the federal government.”
Monkeypox in California
The state has also built on infrastructure developed during the COVID-19 pandemic and have quickly built up the number of testing sites across the states and increased testing capacity. As of Tuesday, California can process more than 1,000 monkeypox tests a week, and is quickly growing that number.
“It’s all about getting the vaccine to areas that need it and getting rid of the virus before it spread more. Search and destroy,” explained nurse Ellen Barkley, who has been assisting some local efforts in California, to the Globe on Tuesday. “We are focusing on the LGBT community by and large, but that’s because that is who it is really hurting right now. It doesn’t matter which populace group has it, it would be treated the same no matter what. It just so happened that it is affecting them in particular right now. Blaming a certain group doesn’t help anyone. It’s just how this one spread this time.”
“And everyone should care. Monkeypox can be very communicable, so we need to stop it now. And that means giving assistance to those communities most at-risk and spreading awareness. I’m not sure that the numbers are really high enough to warrant a state of emergency, it seems like the Governor is acting a bit hastily due to the spread of COVID-19 being a very recent memory. But if you do want to end it before it becomes an even bigger thing, that is one way to do it.”
“What is usually more effective is a mix of public awareness and local health departments putting a wraps on the issue at this point, but Newsom obviously believes that this could be a lot bigger without the state getting involved. Time will tell if this state of emergency was too rash or if only local support was really needed to stop the number of cases from growing.”
Illinois quickly followed California’s lead on declaring a state of emergency on Monday, bringing the total number of states with one for monkeypox nationwide to three. More state actions against the outbreak are expected to be announced soon.
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