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Newsom Declares Statewide Emergency Amid Rapid Spread of Monkeypox Virus

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A long line of men wait in line in front of a Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital
Hundreds of people wait in a walk-in line for a the monkeypox vaccine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Aug. 1, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a public health state of emergency Monday to boost California’s monkeypox vaccination efforts as the virus continues its rapid spread in the state.

The governor said the declaration will help California coordinate a government-wide response, acquire and distribute more vaccines and steer outreach efforts.

“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,” Newsom said in a statement. “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.”

The proclamation comes amid a spike in monkeypox cases in recent weeks. As of July 28, 786 people in California had tested positive for the virus. More than 98% of them have been men, and the vast majority live in San Francisco and Los Angeles, according to state health officials.

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In San Francisco alone, the case count had risen to 310 as of Monday, accounting for nearly 40% of the state’s total.

The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact, which can include hugging, cuddling and kissing, as well as through the sharing of bedding, towels and clothing.  It has so far overwhelmingly spread among men who have sex with men, and disproportionately impacted young Latino men, recent state data shows, though health officials stress that anyone can be infected.

The type of monkeypox virus identified in this outbreak is rarely fatal, and people usually recover within weeks. But the lesions and blisters caused by the virus are painful, and can prevent swallowing or bowel movements if they develop in the throat or anus.

Newsom’s proclamation allows emergency medical personnel to administer federally approved monkeypox vaccines.

That’s similar to a recent law that allows pharmacists to administer vaccines, the governor’s office said. The state’s response, it noted, is building on steps developed during the coronavirus pandemic to set up vaccination clinics and make sure outreach is available to vulnerable populations in coordination with local and community-based organizations.

California’s declaration follows an equivalent measure announced in New York state on Saturday, and one in San Francisco on Thursday. Illinois on Monday also proclaimed a state of emergency over the virus.

Newsom’s administration had said as recently as Friday that it was too soon for such a declaration.

After pressing for Newsom to make the move, Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco hailed the governor’s decision.

“The monkeypox outbreak is an emergency, and we need to use every tool we have to control it,” Wiener said.

Men wait in a long line on the street.
The line to receive a monkeypox vaccine stretches for multiple blocks, outside San Francisco General Hospital on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

California has received more than 61,000 vaccine doses and distributed more than 25,000 doses, officials said. And as of last week, the state had expanded its testing capacity to process more than 1,000 tests a week.

But state and federal health officials have come under fire for what many say has been a lackluster response to the outbreak, with vaccines still in short supply despite rapidly rising demand.

On Monday, Peter Tran was among hundreds who lined up sometimes for hours to receive the monkeypox vaccine at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG) after the clinic was forced to close last week because it did not receive enough doses.

“It’s horrible. Like this is a vaccine that’s been out for such a long time. And like, it’s not even a deadly disease. It’s harder to be transmitted than COVID. But the rollout of the vaccines throughout this nation is absolutely horrible,” Tran said.

“I think the science shows that protection is greatly improved with the vaccine. So that’s why I’m doing it,” he added. “And I honestly just don’t want the lesions on my body. I heard the lesions are painful and leave scarring. So I think that’s another motivation to go out and get it.”

The city received about 4,000 doses on Friday and hopes to administer them by mid-week, said Dr. Lukejohn Day, chief medical officer at ZSFG.

This post includes reporting from Don Thompson of The Associated Press and KQED’s Matthew Green.


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