The Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) declared the nation’s monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency Thursday afternoon, after the U.S. infection tally hit 6,600.
Its Secretary Xavier Becerra made the declaration during a press conference, saying he was prepared to take America’s response to the virus ‘to the next level’.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, explained that means that this could increase available resources to local officials around the country, enhance data collection of cases, testing and hospitalizations related to the virus, and allow for federal officials to deploy personnel across the nation to assist local physicians.
New York, California and Illinois have all already declared public health emergencies over the outbreak. The World Health Organization made the declaration two weeks ago, after the virus was reported in 70 countries where it is not endemic.
America’s monkeypox outbreak has surged to be the largest in the world, with a total of 6,600 cases reported in 48 states. No deaths have been registered in the U.S. to date, but there have been four outside Africa including two in Spain.
Almost every case is among gay or bisexual men, but there is ‘huge concern’ that monkeypox — which is spread via physical contact — could reach more vulnerable groups. At least five cases have been recorded in children so far, 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 is expected to make the announcement later today. The conference will also be attended by Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which has been slammed for a slow response to the virus
Announcing 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 declaration last week, amid alarm over the ever-increasing tally of infections. But they waited until a delayed press conference today to make the move.
Walensky is hopeful the declaration will convince some localities that have not yet entered a data sharing agreement with the federal government to do so. So far, only 51 localities have agreed to report full testing, hospitalization and case data daily.
She also said that it would open the door to the HHS to deploying personnel around the country – a strategy used during surges of COVID-19 to assist overwhelmed local hospitals.
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.
New York — which is also the national hotspot — became the first state to declare an emergency over the virus over the weekend as the administration said it was struggling to get hold of enough doses of the vaccine.
New York has recorded more than 1,600 cases to date mostly in New York City, followed by California (826) and Illinois (547).
At the other end of the scale only Montana and Wyoming — both very rural — are yet to report a first patient with the disease.
Experts warn that monkeypox has been spreading under the radar in the U.S. for some time, pointing to anecdotal reports from Spain of a similar then-undiagnosed disease in February — or three months before the first cases were spotted.
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.
America has detected five cases in children to date, with the latest being in a child from Los Angeles, California. Two children have also tested positive for monkeypox in Indiana, while cases have been detected in a toddler in California and a baby that was ‘travelling through’ Washington D.C.
All are thought to have been infected by ‘household contacts’, which can include parents and visitors to the home.
A pregnant woman has also tested positive for the virus in the U.S., but did not pass on the virus to her now-born baby. Experts say it poses the greatest risk early in the pregnancy, because it could lead to developmental abnormalities in the fetus.
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
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.
This is a developing story.