Newsom issues State of Emergency declaration over monkeypox outbreak
Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday declared a State of Emergency as part of California's ongoing effort to battle the monkeypox virus.
The declaration is expected to help bolster the state's vaccination efforts and outreach among social groups that are at a higher risk of contracting the virus.
"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," Governor Newsom said in a statement on Monday, adding that the state would continue to work with federal partners to "secure more vaccines, raise awareness about reducing risk, and stand with the LGBTQ community fighting stigmatization."
Monkeypox is part of the same family of viruses as smallpox, with similar but milder symptoms. It has primarily spread in Central Africa; the first domestic case was reported on the East Coast in May.
Anyone can get the monkeypox virus by coming into contact with an infected person or through other habits like sharing towels and bedding with a person who has the virus. It can also be transmitted through sexual contact, and has been reported in increasing numbers among certain social groups, including men who have sex with other men.
Vaccines are available that can offset some symptoms associated with the virus. Health officials have focused on disbursing the vaccine at LGBTQ community centers in California, including in San Francisco, where the highest number of monkeypox cases have been reported in the state.
Still, health officials have wobbled on how to encourage LGBTQ individuals to protect themselves from the virus, worried that calling too much attention to these individuals could stigmatize the social group the way the AIDS epidemic did in the 1980s.
In Solano County, the first reported case of monkeypox was publicized last month, but health officials have refused to identify where exactly the first case was found, despite numerous inquiries from Solano NewsNet. Local hospitals have also declined to provide general information about the cases they've treated, referring inquiries to the county's health office.
The decision not to identify the location of the monkeypox virus appeared to contradict how health experts responded to an outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 just two years ago. Then, the Solano County Public Health Office confirmed the first domestic case of COVID-19 was found locally; officials with the Centers for Disease Control later said a Vacaville hospital treated a patient with the first known case of the virus in the United States.
Local health officials are not alone in their struggle to adequately respond to monkeypox: Their counterparts across the country have faced similar criticism that public messaging on where the virus is identified and how individuals can protect themselves does not go far enough.
In New York City, internal debates over how to respond to monkeypox there has spilled into the public, with the New York Times reporting that several local health officials have challenged the decision to offer a broad view of the monkeypox virus with limited specific information on the steps people can take to prevent infection.
"We’re not telling people what they have to do to be safe," Dr. Don Weiss, a health official with the New York City Health Department's Bureau of Communicable Disease, told the New York Times in June.
The emergency declaration issued by Governor Newsom on Monday seems to employ a more proactive and specific response to the outbreak. As part of the declaration, Governor Newsom authorized Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), paramedics and other first responders to administer the monkeypox vaccine, which could greatly expand the number of people who ultimately receive it.
The declaration will also help the state expand testing sites across California. Already, state health officials have worked with schools, commercial laboratories and county health agencies to offer pop-up monkeypox testing sites in various locations, and the number of locations that can offer antivirals to treat monkeypox could expand with it.