America’s monkeypox outbreak was declared a public health emergency by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Thursday afternoon after the nation’s infection tally hit 6,617 cases.
Its Secretary Xavier Becerra revealed the shift to an emergency status in a press conference, saying he was prepared to go ‘to the next level’ and urging every American to ‘take monkeypox seriously’.
The declaration will make more resources available for states, allow for federal officials being deployed nationwide and enhance data collection on cases, hospitalizations and testing.
Cases have been surging by more than a hundred per day for three weeks now, with CDC director Rochelle Walensky admitting today officials were unsure whether this was due to the virus spreading quickly or older infections being picked up.
She said the nation was only utlizing about 10 percent of its testing capacity — or 1,000 of 10,000 swabs per day —, and called for more swabs to be sent to labs.
The federal declaration comes after New York, California and Illinois — which are facing the biggest outbreaks — all declared their own public health emergencies last week. The World Health Organization made declared an international public health emergency two weeks ago, after the virus was reported in 70 countries where it is not endemic.
There is ‘huge concern’ that monkeypox — which is spread via physical contact — could reach more vulnerable groups after at least five cases have been recorded in children, who are more at risk of serious disease from the virus.
Federal officials have been slammed for a delayed response to the virus so far, allowing it to potentially spread unrestricted for weeks before expanding access to testing and rolling out vaccines to the population. At current, the country can perform up to 80,000 monkeypox tests each week.
The above map shows which states have recorded monkeypox cases as of yesterday afternoon. The outbreak is biggest in New York, California and Illinois
The above shows state’s ranked by monkeypox cases. Only Montana and Wyoming are yet to report an infection
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra made the announcement this afternoon. The conference was also attended by Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which has been slammed for a slow response to the virus
Declaring the emergency, Becerra said: ‘In light of all of these developments and the evolving circumstances on the ground, I want to make an announcement today that i will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox.
‘We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus and we urge every american to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.’
Federal officials were expected to make the move last week, amid alarm over the ever-rising tally of infections.
Timeline of monkeypox in the United States
1958: Monkeypox is discovered when an outbreak of pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research.
1970: First human case of the disease is recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was later detected in a number of other central and western African countries.
2003: America’s former largest monkeypox outbreak occurs. A total of 47 people are infected after having contact with pet prairie dogs that picked up the disease at a farm.
July, 2021: Monkeypox case detected in the U.S. in a citizen who had recently returned from Nigeria.
November, 2021: Monkeypox is detected in another U.S. resident who recently returned from Nigeria.
May, 2022: A man in Massachusetts is diagnosed with monkeypox, becoming the first case in the current outbreak. There are now more than 2,000 cases nationwide.
July, 2022: First cases are confirmed in children and a pregnant woman, who are more at risk from the virus.
August, 2022: America set to declare public health emergency over outbreak after its case tally becomes the highest in the world.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, admitted today that officials were not sure whether the outbreak was slowing down.
She said: ‘Two things are happening at once that I think account for the rise in cases that we are seeing. One is the more widely available testing, and two is potentially more infections that are actually happening as a result of infections that happened two or three weeks ago.
‘It is hard to disentangle those right now, but we do expect cases to continue to rise as we get more access to testing people and have more access to testing people.’
She said 51 jurisdictions — although the type was not specified — have agreed to share data so far, although she hoped the rest would soon be able to.
She also called for more samples to be sent for tests, saying America is only using 10 percent of the 10,000 swabs it can do a day.
Almost every case detected so far has been in gay or bisexual men, officials say, although there are growing concerns the outbreak will spread to other groups.
To date five children have tested positive for the virus — two in California, two in Indiana and one traveling through Washington D.C. — who are believed to have caught the virus from ‘household contacts’.
A pregnant woman has also tested positive for the disease.
Both groups are more at risk of serious illness if they contract monkeypox, health officials said, and there is ‘huge concern’ about them catching the disease.
During the briefing, HHS chiefs also revealed they had now delivered 600,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine to states.
There is no data available on how many people have been jabbed, becuase initially states were not required to report this to the CDC.
Within a week of America’s first case being detected in a middle aged man in Massachusetts who had recently returned from Canada in May, both New York and Florida also declared their first infections.
Since then cases have continued to surge upwards and over the last three weeks rose by more than a hundred infections per day.
The biggest rise was the more than 1,000 cases in 24 hours on July 27, but CDC officials said this was mostly down to ‘historical’ cases only just being reported from California.
The disease has also now spread to all U.S. states except Montana and Wyoming — which are very rural — with New York being the national hotspot having registered more than 1,600 infections.
Men pictured queuing to get the monkeypox vaccine at Obregon Park, Los Angeles, today. More than 600,000 doses have been rolled out to states so far
Men pictured preparing to get the monkeypox vaccine in Encino, California, earlier this week
The above map shows the states that have reported monkeypox infections up to August 2nd, the latest date available. It reveals that almost every one has now detected it except Montana and Wyoming
JULY 20 (left) and JULY 27 (right): The CDC starts to report far more cases once testing is ramped up. It has recorded more than a hundred every working day for the past few weeks
JUNE 22 (left) and JULY 6 (right): The virus was detected in yet more states and in larger numbers following celebrations for Pride. It has mostly been detected among gay or bisexual men
MAY 18 (left) and JUNE 8 (right): The above maps show which states have detected cases of monkeypox virus, as it began to spread across the United States
Dr William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, told DailyMail.com yesterday that the virus was now ‘very widespread’ in the U.S. and ‘not under control’.
He also said there was ‘huge concern’ that it could spill over into other groups — like children and pregnant women — who are much more vulnerable to the disease.
Asked about it spreading to more vulnerable groups, Hanage said this was a ‘huge question’ that was causing ‘a great deal of concern’.
‘It is unquestionably true that the virus can infect other groups,’ he said, ‘but it is not clear how sustainable transmission is within those other groups.’
‘The population as a whole remains at low risk, but officials are going to have to be watching extremely closely to start checking how much transmission can occur within the other networks.
The CDC has been repeatedly blasted for its slow response to the outbreak, with it appearing to repeat many of the same mistakes as with Covid.
It took weeks for the agency to ramp up testing, with barely a hundred a day being carried out at the beginning and doctors left faced with hours of paperwork just to get a swab approved to be sent to labs.
But they have now signed on five commercial labs, increasing capacity from up to 1,000 to 10,000 tests that can be processed a day. Medics are also being encouraged to send swabs forward.
There have also been problems accessing vaccines, with many states saying that they have received too few from the national stockpile.
Thousands have been dished out to date, but most of the jabs available when the disease first struck have spent weeks stuck in Denmark while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed a factory inspection.