Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued an emergency declaration Friday morning due to the monkeypox outbreak as cases of the virus top 200.
The declaration comes a day after the Biden administration declared monkeypox a federal public health emergency amid a nationwide vaccine shortage. Dallas County accounts for the largest share of cases in the state, with 209 confirmed and 29 suspected cases as of Thursday.
“We are going to defeat monkeypox by tracing people who have been in contact with a person with monkeypox, testing them and getting the vaccine now to the most vulnerable populations,” Jenkins said at a news conference.
The county health department recently expanded who is eligible for the monkeypox vaccine to include men who have sex with men who have had multiple or anonymous partners in the past two weeks. Originally, it was only available to those who had direct contact with an infected person. But the additional appointments are still not enough to meet the demand.
Dallas County received a shipment of just over 5,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine last week.
Jenkins said the county will use the emergency declaration to try to get more doses of the vaccine, which the federal government is distributing. Unlike emergency declarations made during the COVID-19 pandemic, the monkeypox emergency declaration does not require the closure of any business.
“We’re trusting that businesses that are open every day, like clubs where people dance, will be responsible,” Jenkins said. “You can still go dancing, just make sure you have your shirt on and limit skin-to-skin contact with strangers.”
Monkeypox, a virus similar to the now-extinct smallpox virus, is spread primarily through skin-to-skin contact or contact with contaminated materials such as bedding or clothing. The virus causes flu-like symptoms and a blistering rash that may be located on or near the genitals.
Symptoms, which can be very painful, usually begin within three weeks of being exposed to the virus. The illness usually lasts two to four weeks and is rarely fatal.
County health director Dr. Philip Huang said there have been some hospitalizations related to the current monkeypox outbreak, but he did not have an exact number. Most cases have occurred in men who have sex with men, although the virus can spread to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.
Huang urged people who are not at high risk for monkeypox not to try to get vaccinated.
“But if you are … in any of those high-risk groups, contact us and get on our waiting list,” he said.
Dallas County struggled with high call volume Tuesday following the expansion of eligibility for the vaccine. Jenkins tweeted that callers to the monkeypox hotline may need to try multiple times to reach an operator.
The health department is working with several community partners, including Abounding Prosperity, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Community Health Empowerment, and Prism Health North Texas, to distribute the limited doses of vaccine.
Prism Health, an HIV/AIDS healthcare organization, opened appointments Wednesday for the 300 doses of vaccines it received from the county. Within an hour, all the spaces were filled, said Dr. John Carlo, executive director.
Beyond vaccinations, public health measures such as social distancing and isolation if someone is infected with monkeypox can also help prevent the spread of the virus. During the news conference, Jenkins said he was concerned about large gatherings like festivals that could expose people who are most at risk from the virus.
At a Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, Huang asked commissioners if he could move $100,000 from his preventive health division to respond to the monkeypox outbreak. Commissioners unanimously approved the request.
The funds will help cover research, monitoring and staffing needs.