King County officially declared the local monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency on Friday afternoon, as infections continue to rise in Seattle and other parts of the state.
“We are fortunate to have one of the best public health organizations in the nation right here in King County, and today’s action ensures they will have all the tools needed to take on the challenge of monkeypox,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. “The health of our community is paramount, and responding quickly and nimbly to monkeypox will help keep more of us safe.”
The local emergency proclamation will give Public Health — Seattle & King County more flexibility in hiring and contracting protocols, according to the statement. For example, it allows King County staff to authorize overtime and to make temporary staffing appointments to respond to the emergency.
The proclamation went into effect immediately to support efforts to contain the virus, which can cause a rash, fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue. It can take up to three weeks after being exposed to the virus before symptoms begin.
As of Friday, Washington had counted 333 monkeypox infections, 275 of which were confirmed in King County, according to the state Department of Health. Two weeks ago, the state had confirmed 166 cases.
Public health officials have also recorded 21 cases in Pierce County, seven in Snohomish County, five in Spokane County, five in Clark County and four in Yakima County, DOH said.
The majority of cases have been confirmed among men who had sexual or close intimate contact with other men, though anyone can contract the virus through skin-to-skin (or sometimes prolonged face-to-face) contact, state health officials have said.
“It’s an important time for public health to have the flexibility it needs to be able to respond and reach the communities most impacted, including ensuring equitable access to vaccine,” Dennis Worsham, interim county public health director, said in the statement.
Monkeypox vaccines have been particularly scarce in the region, and while Constantine’s proclamation will not bring more doses to the state in the near term, it will help public health teams more quickly deliver vaccines when larger quantities become available, according to the executive’s office.
In late July, King County health officials said they had only about 6% of the vaccine supply needed to provide two-dose shots to those considered at high or elevated risk for the disease. The state is adopting a “first-dose prioritization” strategy, which means recipients will initially get only one shot of the two-dose vaccine in an attempt to stretch supply for as many high-risk people as possible.
Currently, those considered at highest risk and who are eligible for a monkeypox vaccine in King County include anyone who has had sexual or close, intimate contact with someone who has tested positive for monkeypox. Men who have sex with men and have had more than 10 sex partners in the past three months; a history of early syphilis or gonorrhea in the past year; or attended a bathhouse or other public sex venue in the last three months, among other criteria, are also eligible for a vaccine.
“Removing any procedural barriers will help us be as effective as possible as we expect a continued busy fall for Public Health, health care providers and community partners, including the possible rollout of new COVID-19 boosters, flu shots, and preventing more cases of MPV in our community,” Worsham said, using the term some agencies prefer for the virus.
San Francisco and New York City became the first cities in the country to declare a health emergency over the outbreak in late July, though the federal government gave a similar announcement in early August in hopes of securing funding and other resources to treat and vaccinate those who are infected. The World Health Organization also issued a global health emergency in July.
If you live in King County and are eligible for a vaccine, public health officials recommend contacting your health care provider or Public Health — Seattle & King County at 800-756-5437.
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