SACRAMENTO — Governor Gavin Newsom of California declared a state of emergency Monday to address an outbreak of monkeypox, making the state the third in four days to ramp up its public health response to the rapidly spreading disease.
The statement followed similar actions from New York on Friday and Illinois on Monday, and from the city of San Francisco on Thursday. Mayor Eric Adams of New York also declared a local emergency on Monday.
“California is working urgently at 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 those most at risk are our focus. for vaccines, treatment and outreach,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement.
“We will continue to work with the federal government to secure more vaccines, raise awareness about risk reduction, and support the LGBTQ community in fighting stigma,” he added.
The measures, which help streamline and coordinate the response to monkeypox across different levels of government, come amid a surge in infections and growing complaints about the public health response.
What to know about the monkeypox virus
What is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a virus similar to smallpox, but the symptoms are less severe. It was discovered in 1958, after outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research. The virus was found mainly in parts of central and western Africa, but in recent weeks it has spread to dozens of countries and infected tens of thousands of people, mostly men who have sex with men. On July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency.
Nearly 6,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported nationally since May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with nearly half of them reported in California, Illinois and New York. The World Health Organization has already declared the virus a global health emergency.
No deaths have been reported in the United States so far, and monkeypox is rarely fatal, but the rash caused by the virus has caused severe pain in some patients. The virus spreads primarily through prolonged physical contact, but can also be transmitted through shared bedding and clothing, health officials say.
Men who have sex with men account for about 99 percent of confirmed cases so far. Public health officials stress that the virus can spread to anyone who has prolonged skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the rash.
The US case count is among the highest in the world, and health officials say the number is almost certainly an underestimate.
Federal health officials say they have not yet declared a national health emergency, in part because monkeypox is a known disease with tests, vaccines and treatments available.
But as the virus has spread and scientists have compiled research, the emerging picture has been a bit more complicated than in previous outbreaks, and pressure for more aggressive measures has intensified.
Last week, President Biden’s health secretary urged states and municipalities to take more action, noting that most public health powers in the United States are concentrated at the local level.
“We don’t control public health in all 50 states, in the territories and in the tribal jurisdictions,” said Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, in response to a reporter’s question about whether the virus could be eliminated. “We trust our association to work with them. They need to work with us.”
California’s emergency declaration will allow Emergency Medical Services workers to administer federally approved monkeypox vaccines.
Governor Kathy Hochul of New York issued an emergency declaration Friday, saying the move would pressure federal health officials to send additional monkeypox vaccines to the state. On Monday, Governor JB Pritzker of Illinois followed suit, calling monkeypox “a rare but potentially serious disease that requires the full mobilization of all available public health resources.”
Mr. Pritzker added that the effort would “ensure our LGBTQ+ community has the resources it needs to stay safe and ensure members are not stigmatized when accessing critical health care.”