NYC officials declare monkeypox a public health emergency

New York City officials declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Saturday in an effort to respond more efficiently to the current outbreak, which began in May.

San Francisco was the first U.S. city to declare a state of emergency to combat the monkeypox outbreak last week.

In a joint statement, New York Mayor Eric Adams and Dr. Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said New York is currently the epicenter of the monkeypox outbreak in the U.S., and they estimate that "approximately 150,000 New Yorkers may currently be at risk for monkeypox exposure."

Both officials also said that the outbreak "must be met with urgency, action and resources, both nationally and globally," and that the declaration reflected "the seriousness of the moment."

As of Aug. 1, the New York City Health Department has reported 1,472 cases of monkeypox.

The decision came just a day after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul had also declared a state disaster emergency due to the rapid increase in cases in the state, particularly in New York City.

"I am declaring a State Disaster Emergency to strengthen our ongoing efforts to confront the monkeypox outbreak," Hochul tweeted Friday, adding that the executive order enables the state to respond more swiftly, as well as to improve vaccine distribution.

More than 22,400 cases of monkeypox have been reported in at least 79 countries so far where the virus was previously unknown or unreported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rapid increase in cases around the globe prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency last week. U.S. federal health officials have said the Biden administration is also considering declaring monkeypox a public health emergency in order to enhance the U.S. response to the outbreak.

More than 5,100 cases of monkeypox had been reported in the U.S. as of July 29, according to the latest CDC data, but considering that this data is lagging by a few days, that figure is likely higher by now. More than 1 in 4 of those cases are in New York, Hochul said on Friday.

New York state has reported 1,573 cases of monkeypox, and it is the state with the most infections, followed by California with 799 cases, Illinois with 419 and Florida with 373, per the latest CDC data.

People want by a sign the reads: Vaccination Entrance.
People wait in line to receive the monkeypox vaccine in New York City. (Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

The monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses that cause smallpox. Symptoms can include fever, severe headaches, muscle aches, back pain, exhaustion, swollen lymph nodes and skin rashes or lesions.

The virus can cause painful and debilitating symptoms, but it is rarely fatal, and around 90% of people usually survive it on their own without any complications, according to health experts.

Monkeypox can spread through physical contact with an infected person, particularly contact with skin lesions or with body fluids such as blood or saliva. Scientists are still studying whether it can be spread through people who have no symptoms.

It’s notable, however, that in 91% of cases reported to the WHO since the onset of the outbreak, sexual contact has been the main mode of transmission.

More than 97% of patients who have tested positive for monkeypox since the onset of the outbreak identify as gay or bisexual men or as men who have sex with men, according to U.S. health officials. That group remains most at risk for contracting the virus at the moment, health experts say.

However, health officials have warned that the virus doesn’t discriminate and anyone who comes into close contact with an infected person is at increased risk of infection, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Before New York’s emergency declaration, Jynneos, the vaccine that is licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to protect against monkeypox, was mainly available through the New York City health department at designated sites. According to state officials, Hochul’s emergency declaration now broadens the pool of people who can administer vaccines to include EMS personnel, pharmacists, midwives, physicians and certified nurse practitioners.

Although the demand for vaccines has outstripped supply in recent weeks, causing long lines and frustration among doctors and people waiting to get vaccinated, Hochul said in a statement that the federal government had secured an additional 110,000 vaccine doses, resulting in a total of 170,000 doses available to New Yorkers to date.

The White House said last week that the U.S. had distributed more than 300,000 vaccines to jurisdictions around the country so far and that the FDA was working to finalize the approval of nearly 800,000 additional doses.

On Monday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said those doses should soon be available to those who need them.

"As I’m speaking to you right now, they are being shipped to areas that really need them," Jean-Pierre said at a White House press briefing.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, another 5 million doses have been ordered by the federal government. Those are expected to be delivered through the middle of 2023, beginning with 800,000 this summer.