Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced on Thursday that he would be the Chairman of the newly-formed Senate Select Committee on Monkeypox.
Monkeypox, a virus that cause rashes, swollen glands, and fever among 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 the cases are white, and 41% of cases are those with HIV/AIDS.
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. On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency over monkey pox due to the spread of the virus statewide, 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. While the growth has been slow, with California reporting 799 cases last Wednesday and only 1,310 cases this Wednesday, an emergency was nonetheless declared.
“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.”
A new committee on monkeypox
The state legislature, mirroring their response to prior outbreaks such as SARS, Bird Flu, and COVID-19, soon formed a select committee to address the issue, with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) appointing Wiener to chair it on Thursday. Senators Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa), Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), and Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) were also appointed to the committee.
“Monkeypox is a public health emergency, and we need to do everything we can to contain the outbreak,” said Senator Wiener. “Monkeypox is a painful and serious infection, and no one should have to endure it. We need to ensure California’s response, at both the state and local level, is effective and adequately funded. Our community is depending on us to deliver.”
In his press release, Wiener also noted, “Due to this federal public health failure, we have very limited vaccine supply. Gay and bisexual men and others at risk desperately want the vaccine in order to protect themselves and those around them. Yet, instead of quickly mobilizing into a mass vaccination campaign with this existing safe and effective vaccine, many of our counties lack the supply to vaccinate everyone seeking the vaccine. In San Francisco, for example, people have been waiting in lines for as long as 9 hours in the hope of getting a scarce vaccine. The long wait times create further barriers for low-income, marginalized communities to access the vaccine.”
While monkeypox has hit the LGBT community hard, with the Counties of San Francisco and Los Angeles alone accounting for 829 of California’s 1,310 cases so far, many experts have said that it is still too early to tell if the monkeypox outbreak is large enough to justify the actions taken this week, and that local preventative measures are still still the best option.
“This is still very much a small issue,” explained nurse Ellen Barkley, who has been assisting some local efforts in California, to the Globe on Friday. “The number of cases it has had so far, flu and other seasonal illnesses spread more, and that’s not even getting into the COVID-19 situation right now.”
“The fact is that this virus has affected principally one group, the LGBT+, and many still have what happened with COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 fresh in their minds. It deserves to be looked at and tracked, but we don’t see committees on it. We need further public awareness and local health departments working with the communities at-risk to stop it. A simple and effective plan that has halted many viruses and other bugs going around in the past. Right now, all of this just seems like theater and we’re not focusing more on the tried and true methods of stopping it.”
The Select Committee on Monkeypox will hold their first oversight hearing on August 9th.
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