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California health officials hold on emergency declaration over monkeypox outbreak

© iStock - Sergey Tinyakov
Madison Hirneisen

(The Center Square) – California state health officials are not yet declaring a state of emergency due to the monkeypox outbreak in the Golden State but say they are closely monitoring the situation.

California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Thomás Aragón told reporters Friday that the state health department is taking the outbreak seriously and is working closely with local health jurisdictions to monitor the situation but is not yet declaring a public health emergency.

“We continue to review everything and we’ll decide whether we need to do anything additional like declare a public health emergency,” Aragón said Friday.

The public health director noted that, following COVID-19, the state is in a “much better situation to be able to deal with monkeypox” due to existing infrastructure established during the pandemic, such as contract tracing and the disease surveillance system. He also assured members of the public Friday that “monkeypox is not like COVID” in the way it spreads – primarily by close physical contact with an infected individual.

California had 786 probable and confirmed cases of monkeypox as of Thursday, with 66 percent of cases coming out of San Francisco and Los Angeles counties, Aragón said. The rising cases of monkeypox caused San Francisco officials to declare a local public health emergency on Thursday, allowing the city to receive future reimbursement from the state and federal government and streamline resources.

“San Francisco is an epicenter for the country. Thirty percent of all cases in California are in San Francisco,” Dr. Susan Philip, San Francisco Public Health officer, said in a statement. “We have always been on the forefront of advocacy and action for LGBTQ+ health and I’m issuing this declaration to reaffirm our commitment to the wellbeing of these communities and to allow us to move more quickly to obtain and distribute the resources needed to help those disproportionately impacted.”

The city’s declaration Thursday quickly called into question whether or not the state could soon move to declare a public health emergency. Earlier this week, Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, called on both California and San Francisco to declare a state of emergency to address the virus that is disproportionately impacting members of the LGBTQ community.

“State of Emergency declarations will create significant flexibility around testing, contracting for services, and administration of vaccinations,” Wiener said in a statement Wednesday. “It will allow us to use all the resources in our power to contain the outbreak. Right now, we don’t have enough vaccines or testing, and we need flexibility to expand access to both."

 Wiener, alongside several other lawmakers, also asked for federal authorization Thursday to utilize certain COVID-19 funds to bolster the state’s response to monkeypox.

Aragón said Friday that the state has received more than 37,000 vaccine doses and expects an additional 72,000 vaccine doses soon. The public health director said the state has requested up to 800,000 vaccine doses. 

Last weekend, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency – the same designation given in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in January 2020, as reported by CNBC. As of Thursday, the U.S. had over 4,900 confirmed cases of monkeypox, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.