San Francisco declares emergency as smallpox cases rise

San Francisco officials declared a state of emergency Thursday in response to a growing number of monkeypox cases in the city and a national vaccine shortage.

The declaration will allow local authorities to mobilize more resources and staff to deal with the outbreak and speed up emergency planning. The city has so far recorded 261 cases, out of about 4,600 in the US, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“San Francisco is an epicenter for the country. Thirty percent of all cases in California are in San Francisco,” said San Francisco Health Officer Susan Philip. In a crisis that has so far disproportionately affected men who have sex with men, he added: “We are issuing this statement to reaffirm our commitment to the well-being of these communities and to enable us to move faster to obtain and distribute resources. necessary to help those disproportionately affected.”

Also Thursday, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T Bassett declared monkeypox an imminent public health threat. More than a quarter of the cases in the United States (1,341) are in New York, most concentrated in New York City.

Last week, San Francisco leaders and LGBTQ+ advocates protested outside the regional office of the US Department of Health and Human Services against what they saw as a slow response to the monkeypox outbreak.

“San Francisco was at the forefront of public health responses to HIV and Covid-19, and we will be at the forefront when it comes to monkeypox,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, in a communicated “We cannot and will not leave the LGTBQ+ community out to dry.”

No emergency closures or restrictions have been planned, as monkeypox is mainly spread through very close skin-to-skin contact. But local health organizations in San Francisco have advocated for easier and broader access to testing and more vaccine doses. Those calls are echoed by leaders in other major cities, where epidemiologists warn that initial delays in rolling out tests mean the actual number of cases is very likely to exceed confirmed cases.

“In the face of a frustratingly slow federal response, it’s even more important that we can mobilize all available local resources to get vaccines into arms as quickly and equitably as possible,” said San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman .

So far, San Francisco has received 8,200 doses of Jynneos, the best monkeypox vaccine. But officials had initially requested 35,000 doses to cover the most vulnerable residents.

Residents had to wait in long queues for the scarce doses. “We should have been able to quickly control this outbreak,” Wiener told the Guardian last week. “And instead, it’s like Mad Max Thunderdome getting a vaccine.”

Health workers have also said more local resources are needed to reach particularly vulnerable residents, including underserved populations.

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