The U.S. monkeypox outbreak was declared a public health emergency by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Thursday afternoon, after the number of infections in the country reached 6,617.
Its secretary, Xavier Becerra, revealed the move to a state of emergency at a news conference, saying he was ready to go “to the next level” and urging every American to “take monkeypox seriously.”
The declaration will make more resources available to states, allow for the nationwide deployment of federal officials, and strengthen data collection on cases, hospitalizations and testing.
Cases have been rising by more than a hundred a day for three weeks, with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky admitting today that officials aren’t sure whether that’s due to the rapid spread of the virus or catching up with older infections.
She said the country was only using about 10 percent of its testing capacity – or 1,000 out of 10,000 swabs a day – and called for more swabs to be sent to laboratories.
The federal announcement comes after New York, California and Illinois — which are facing the biggest outbreaks — declared their own public health emergencies last week. The World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency two weeks ago after the virus was reported in 70 countries where it is not endemic.
There is “great concern” that monkeypox – which is spread by physical contact – could reach more vulnerable groups after at least five cases were reported in children who are more at risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus.
Federal officials have so far been criticized for their delayed response to the virus, allowing it to spread potentially unfettered for weeks before expanding access to testing and introducing vaccines among the population. Currently, the country can conduct up to 80,000 monkeypox tests each week.
The map above shows which states have reported monkeypox cases as of yesterday afternoon. The outbreak is largest in New York, California and Illinois
The above shows the ranking of states by monkeypox cases. Only Montana and Wyoming have yet to report an infection
Health and Human Services Minister Xavier Becerra made the announcement this afternoon. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been criticized for its slow response to the virus, also attended the conference.
In declaring the emergency, Becerra said: “In light of all these events and the evolving circumstances on the ground, I want to announce today that I will declare a public health emergency regarding monkeypox.
“We are ready to take our response to the next level in dealing with this virus, and we are calling on every American to take monkeypox seriously and take responsibility for helping to deal with this virus.”
Federal officials were expected to make the move last week amid concern over the steadily rising number of infections.
Timeline of monkeypox in the United States
1958: Monkeypox is discovered when a smallpox-like disease breaks out in monkeys kept for research.
1970: The first case of the disease in humans is recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was later found in a number of other countries in Central and West Africa.
2003: The former largest outbreak of monkeypox in the Americas has occurred. A total of 47 people became infected after contact with pet prairie dogs that became infected on the farm.
July 2021: A case of monkeypox identified in the US in a citizen recently returned from Nigeria.
November 2021: Monkeypox was detected in another US resident who recently returned from Nigeria.
May 2022: A man in Massachusetts is diagnosed with monkeypox, becoming the first case of the current epidemic. There are now more than 2,000 cases nationwide.
July 2022: The first cases are confirmed in children and pregnant women, who are more at risk of the virus.
August 2022: America is set to declare a public health emergency over the outbreak after the number of cases becomes the highest in the world.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, admitted today that officials are not sure if the epidemic is slowing.
She said: “There are two things happening at the same time that I think are responsible for the increase in cases that we are seeing. One is widely available testing, and the other is potentially more infections that are actually occurring as a result of infections that occurred two or three weeks ago.
“It’s hard to separate them now, but we expect cases to continue to increase as we get better access to human testing and better access to human testing.”
She said 51 jurisdictions – although the type was not specified – had so far agreed to share data, although she hoped the rest would soon be able to.
She also called for more samples to be sent for testing, saying America is only using 10 percent of the 10,000 swabs it can do a day.
Almost every case detected so far has involved gay or bisexual men, officials say, although fears are growing that the epidemic will spread to other groups.
To date, five children – two in California, two in Indiana and one traveling through Washington DC – have tested positive for the virus and are believed to have contracted it from “household contacts”.
A pregnant woman also has a positive test for the disease.
Both groups are at greater risk of serious illness if they contract monkeypox, health officials said, and there is “tremendous concern” about contracting the disease.
During the briefing, HHS chiefs also revealed that they have now shipped 600,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine to states.
No data is available on how many people were stabbed because states were not originally required to report it to the CDC.
Within a week of the first case in America being identified in a middle-aged Massachusetts man who recently returned from Canada in May, New York and Florida also reported their first infections.
Since then, cases have continued to rise, increasing by more than a hundred infections a day in the past three weeks.
The largest increase was more than 1,000 cases in 24 hours on July 27, but CDC officials said that was mostly due to “historic” cases that had just been reported from California.
The disease has also now spread to every U.S. state except Montana and Wyoming, which are very rural, with New York a national hotspot with more than 1,600 infections.
Men lined up for monkeypox vaccinations in Obregon Park in Los Angeles today. To date, more than 600,000 doses have been introduced into the states
Men pictured preparing for a monkeypox vaccination in Encino, California earlier this week
The map above shows states that reported monkeypox infections by August 2, the latest date available. She reveals that almost everyone except Montana and Wyoming has now revealed her
JULY 20 (left) and JULY 27 (right): CDC begins reporting many more cases as testing ramps up. In recent weeks, each working day has seen more than a hundred of them
JUNE 22 (left) and JULY 6 (right): The virus was detected in even more states and in greater numbers after Pride celebrations. It was mostly found in gay or bisexual men
MAY 18 (left) and JUNE 8 (right): The maps above show which states have reported cases of the monkeypox virus that has begun to spread across the United States
Dr William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, told DailyMail.com yesterday that the virus was now “widespread” in the US and “not under control”.
He also said there was “great concern” that it could spread to other groups – such as children and pregnant women – who are much more vulnerable to the disease.
Asked if it had spread to more vulnerable groups, Hanage said it was a “huge question” that caused “great concern”.
“It is undoubtedly true that the virus can infect other groups,” he said.[but] it is not clear how sustainable transmission is within these other groups.”
“The population as a whole remains at low risk, but [officials] they will have to watch very closely to start controlling how much traffic may be occurring on other networks.
The CDC has been repeatedly criticized for its slow response to the outbreak, appearing to repeat many of the same mistakes it made with Covid.
It took weeks for the agency to get testing up and running, at first running barely a hundred a day, and doctors faced hours of paperwork just to approve a swab to send to labs.
However, they have now signed up five commercial laboratories, increasing the capacity from up to 1,000 to 10,000 tests that can be processed daily. Doctors are also encouraged to send smears ahead.
There have also been problems with access to vaccines, with many states reporting that they have received too few from national stocks.
Thousands have been distributed to date, but most of the punches available when the disease first struck spent weeks in Denmark while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed a factory inspection.