Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued an emergency declaration Friday morning due to an outbreak of monkey pox as 200 cases of the virus.
The announcement comes the day after the Biden administration declared monkey pox a public health emergency in the face of a nationwide vaccine shortage. Dallas County represents the largest proportion of cases in the state, with 209 confirmed and 29 suspected cases as of Thursday.
“We intend to overcome monkey pox by tracking people who have been in contact with someone with monkey pox, testing them and administering the vaccine to the most vulnerable populations,” Jenkins said at a press conference.
The district health department recently expanded the eligibility for the monkey pox vaccine to include men who have had sex with men who have had multiple or anonymous partners in the past two weeks. It was originally only available to those who had direct contact with the infected person. But the additional appointments are still not enough to meet the demand.
Dallas County received a shipment of just over 5,000 doses of JYNNEOS vaccine last week.
Jenkins said the county will use a fallback declaration to try to get more doses of the vaccine that are distributed by the federal government. Unlike emergency reports made during the COVID-19 pandemic, a monkey pox emergency report does not require any company to close down.
“We trust companies that are open every day, like clubs where people dance will be responsible,” said Jenkins. “You can still go dancing, just make sure you wear a shirt and limit skin contact with strangers.”
Monkey pox, a virus similar to the extinct smallpox virus, is spread mainly through skin contact or contact with contaminated materials such as bedding or clothing. The virus causes flu-like symptoms and a blistering rash that may be on or near the genitals.
Symptoms, which can be very painful, usually begin within three weeks of exposure to the virus. The disease usually lasts for two to four weeks and is rarely fatal.
County health director Dr. Philip Huang said there have been several hospitalizations related to the current monkey pox epidemic, but the exact number has not been given. Most of the cases have occurred in men who have sex with men, although the virus can spread to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.
Huang urged people who are not at high risk of getting monkey pox not to try to get vaccinated.
“But if you belong to any of these high-risk groups, please contact us and get on our waiting list,” he said.
Dallas County struggled with a large number of connections on Tuesday after expanding qualifications for the vaccine. Jenkins tweeted that callers to the monkey pox hotline may need multiple times to contact the operator.
The Department of Health is working with several community partners – including Abounding Prosperity, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Community Health Empowerment, and Prism Health North Texas – to distribute limited doses of vaccines.
Prism Health, the HIV / AIDS health care organization, opened meetings on Wednesday on the 300 doses of vaccines it had received from the county. Within an hour, all the seats were filled, said CEO Dr. John Carlo.
In addition to vaccination, public health measures such as social distancing and isolation if someone is infected with monkey pox can also help prevent the spread of the virus. During the press conference, Jenkins said he was concerned about large gatherings, such as festivals, that could expose the people most at risk from the virus.
At the hearing of Commissioner Court on Tuesday, Huang asked commissioners if he could move $ 100,000 from the health prevention department to respond to the monkey pox epidemic. The Commissioners unanimously approved the request.
The funds will help cover the investigation, monitoring and staffing needs.