New York Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett on Thursday declared monkeypox an imminent threat to public health in the state amid a rise in cases.
The declaration was made as New York received an additional 110,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine from the federal government and as advocates and lawmakers have raised concerns with the public health officials' initial response.
Local health departments have been vaccinating populations deemed to be at high risk for contracting monkeypox. And while anyone can get monkeypox, it is typically transmitted by close, physical contact between people.
In an interview Friday with NY1 anchor Rocco Vertuccio, Bassett noted that the declaration will now help “mobilize more resources for local health departments,” echoing her initial statements Thursday.
“This declaration means that local health departments engaged in response and prevention activities will be able to access additional state reimbursement, after other federal and state funding sources are maximized, to protect all New Yorkers and ultimately limit the spread of monkeypox in our communities,” she said in a statement.
Despite the fact that the first monkeypox case was identified in humans in the 1970s, Bassett noted in her interview that the current outbreak is much different than what had previously been studied.
“It’s presenting in different ways, it's spreading in different ways and it's disproportionately affecting the population of men who have sex with men all over the world,” Bassett said.
“So, for all of these reasons, the World Health Organization over the weekend assigned monkeypox its highest level of global emergency concern and we’re also concerned here in New York State.”
Bassett said that in addition to freeing up resources for local health offices, the declaration is also meant to signal the state’s concern over the growing number of cases.
The declaration is retroactive to June 1 and runs through the end of the year.
"With more than one-quarter of all cases in the U.S., New Yorkers, and especially our LGBTQ+ community, remain among the hardest-hit. We will continue to advocate to the federal government for our fair share of vaccines based on the disease burden impacting New York," Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement.
"My team and I have been working around the clock to confront the monkeypox outbreak and keep New Yorkers safe, and we will continue our ongoing efforts to secure more vaccines, expand testing capacity, and educate the public on how to identify symptoms and protect themselves."
“We are concerned about the rising number of cases of monkeypox. It's just been two months since we identified the very first case in New York State – in New York City – and we’re now up over 1,300 cases and the vast majority of them in New York City.
So, declaring an imminent public health threat is part of signaling our concern. And additionally, as you point out, it helps us mobilize more resources for local health departments.”
This is a virus that's an old virus, it was identified in a human being in 1970. But the current outbreak – which is global, over 70 countries have reported monkeypox and the numbers are rising globally – and it’s presenting in different ways, it's spreading in different ways and it's disproportionately affecting the population of men who have sex with men all over the world.
Men who identify as gay, bisexual, gender non-conforming, are disproportionately the vast majority of people who’ve been identified as having monkeypox.
So, for all of these reasons, the WHO over the weekend assigned monkeypox its highest level of global emergency concern and we’re also concerned here in New York State.
“We know the vaccine is not enough, what all of us in public health want is for everybody who is concerned about their risk to have access to the vaccine, but we don’t have that yet.. We need to advocate for more.