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New York becomes second major U.S. city to declare health emergency over monkeypox

Healthcare workers with New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

New York City officials declared monkeypox a public health emergency Saturday, saying the city is the epicentre of the state’s outbreak and the move will boost measures to help slow the spread of the disease.

“We estimate that approximately 150,000 New Yorkers may currently be at risk for monkeypox exposure,” Mayor Eric Adams and Dr. Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the city’s health and mental hygiene department, said in a joint statement. “This outbreak must be met with urgency, action, and resources, both nationally and globally, and this declaration of a public health emergency reflects the seriousness of the moment.”

The declaration takes effect immediately, the statement said.

It comes just a day after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul issued an executive order declaring a state disaster emergency, saying “more than one in four monkeypox cases in this country” are in the state. Among several other actions, the governor’s order expands the number of people eligible to administer monkeypox vaccines, requires providers to send vaccine data to the state’s health department and will boost ongoing response efforts including efforts to get more vaccines and expand testing capacity, the governor’s office said.

Other leaders in the U.S. – and across the globe – have been sounding the alarm over monkeypox as infection numbers continue to rise and vaccine supply is falling short of demand. Experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci have stressed the monkeypox outbreak needs to be taken seriously and handled in a more rigorous manner, while federal officials continue to weigh a countrywide public health emergency declaration.

San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to declare a local health emergency on Thursday in an effort to strengthen its preparedness and response amid “rapidly rising cases” and high demand for the vaccine, the city said. The declaration goes into effect on Monday.

“We know that this virus impacts everyone equally – but we also know that those in our LGBTQ community are at greater risk right now,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “Many people in our LGBTQ community are scared and frustrated. This local emergency will allow us to continue to support our most at risk, while also better preparing for what’s to come.”

In Washington, the federal government is continuing to monitor the response to monkeypox and will use it to consider whether to declare the outbreak a public health emergency, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday.

“We will weigh any decision on declaring a public health emergency based on the responses we’re seeing throughout the country. Bottom line is, we need to stay ahead of it and be able to end this outbreak,” he said.

Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned earlier this month it may be too late to contain the outbreak, telling CBS, “The window for getting control of this and containing it probably has closed.”

Last weekend, the World Health Organization declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern after convening its second emergency committee on the issue.

WHO defines a public health emergency of international concern as “an extraordinary event” which constitutes a “public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease” and “to potentially require a co-ordinated international response.”

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