San Francisco declares emergency due to spread of monkey pox

San Francisco’s mayor declared a state of emergency on Thursday over the growing number of monkeypox cases, allowing officials to cut red tape and fight a public health crisis reminiscent of the AIDS epidemic that began to devastate the city in the eighties.

“We’re in a very scary place. And we don’t want to be ignored by the federal government in our need. Many leaders in the LGBT community have also been calling, for weeks, for additional help and support and assistance,” said Mayor London Breed.

The city is “in desperate need of vaccines,” he said.

The declaration, which will take effect Monday, was welcomed by gay advocates who have grown increasingly frustrated with what they called San Francisco’s lackluster response to a virus that has so far mostly affected men in relationships sex with men, although anyone can become infected.

“San Francisco was at the forefront of public health responses to HIV and COVID-19, and we will be at the forefront of monkey pox,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat who represents the city “We cannot and will not leave the LGBTQ community out to dry.”

The city has 281 cases, out of about 800 in California and 4,600 nationwide, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The national vaccine shortage has left people queuing for hours to receive meager doses, often only to be turned away when shots run out.

Members of the LGBTQ community expressed anger and frustration at a city hearing last week, saying they were relying on social media because San Francisco’s public health department had not dispensed basic information about testing or vaccine availability.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman criticized the department, saying it was unclear why it could not service the phone lines, especially after telling people to call those phone numbers for information, while the Foundation for San Francisco AIDS was able to quickly provide a smallpox information hotline. The organization has also started a waiting list for people who want the vaccine, unlike the public health department which forces people to stand in line.

“It’s a bad look for San Francisco,” he said.

After attending San Francisco’s Pride weekend in late June, Tom Temprano, 36, was notified that at least one other attendee had tested positive for monkey pox. He called four numbers provided by local health officials in an effort to get vaccinated, but no one picked up. He left voicemails.

“I waited and waited and waited,” Temprano said, “And there was just kind of a concern, I think, for me and a lot of people, for our safety, as we were getting further and further away from “an exhibition.”

Finally, on July 8, two weeks after he was potentially exposed to the virus at the Pride event, and monitoring gay social media the entire time, he learned through an Instagram post that a vaccination clinic was being held at San Francisco General. hospital The sign said drop everything and leave now. Temprano texted half a dozen people and rushed off.

He waited with hundreds of other people in a line that stretched out onto the street and halfway down an island. After waiting 3 1/2 hours, Temprano, who is the political director of San Francisco-based Equality California, received his first dose of the vaccine. One of his friends stood in line four times before he could get the shot.

Temprano was scheduled to receive his second dose next week, but that was canceled: With the vaccine in short supply, city officials have chosen to prioritize getting people their first doses. He’s frustrated that authorities have taken so long to respond, noting that they did so after LGBTQ politicians in his community spoke up.

“I think the saddest thing is that there are people who are suffering from monkey pox now who have been trying to get this vaccine for the last month and a half and haven’t been able to get one, who are sick and in pain and they will. potentially out of work for two to six weeks,” he said.

Wiener had urged local and state officials to declare a health emergency, which he said would give the city and counties more flexibility to respond to the growing outbreak. For example, it would streamline getting test results to people and allow a wider range of providers to perform vaccinations.

Wiener, who is gay, also noted the parallels with the AIDS crisis in San Francisco.

“I think this is like deja vu: once again, gay men are being attacked, demonized and blamed as we get sick, and that we can never tolerate that,” he said.

In the early 1980s, the US government reacted slowly as the AIDS epidemic ravaged gay communities in San Francisco and elsewhere. Groups like ACT UP emerged to push for action to fight AIDS. This struggle resonates today.

Despite problems with vaccine supplies, federal officials said Thursday that the nation’s monkeypox outbreak may still be contained, amid concerns that the United States has missed its window to contain the virus.

The monkeypox virus is spread through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including sex, kissing, breathing at close range and sharing bedding and clothing, the public health department said. Health officials are asking people who may be at risk to cover exposed skin when in crowds and to watch for symptoms, including fever, blisters and rashes.

The World Health Organization declared the monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries a global emergency over the weekend.

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