Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued an emergency declaration Friday morning due to the monkeypox outbreak as virus cases top 200.
The statement comes a day after the Biden administration declared monkeypox a federal public health emergency amid a nationwide vaccine shortage. Dallas County accounts for the largest portion of cases in the state, with 209 confirmed cases and 29 suspected cases as of Thursday.
“We are going to defeat monkeypox by tracing people who have been in contact with someone with monkeypox, testing them and getting the most vulnerable populations vaccinated now,” Jenkins told a conference. Press.
The county health department recently expanded those eligible for the monkeypox vaccine to include men who have sex with men who, if they have had multiple or unnamed partners in the past two weeks. Originally, it was only available to those who had direct contact with an 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 the JYNNEOS vaccine last week.
Jenkins said the county will use the emergency declaration to try to get more doses of the vaccine, which are being distributed by the federal government. Unlike emergency declarations made during the COVID-19 pandemic, the monkeypox emergency declaration does not require the closure of any business.
“We trust businesses that are open every day like clubs where people dance will be responsible,” Jenkins said. “You can still go dancing, just make sure you have your shirt on and limit skin-to-skin contact with strangers.”
Monkeypox, a virus similar to the now extinct smallpox virus, is spread primarily through skin-to-skin contact or through contact with contaminated materials such as bedding or clothing. The virus causes flu-like symptoms and a 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 two to four weeks and is rarely fatal.
County health director Dr Philip Huang said there have been hospitalizations linked to the current monkeypox outbreak, but did not have an exact number. The majority of 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 for monkeypox not to try to get vaccinated.
“But if you are…in one of these high-risk groups, please contact us and put yourself on our waiting list,” he said.
Dallas County saw high call volumes Tuesday after expanding vaccine eligibility. Jenkins tweeted that people calling the monkeypox hotline might need to try multiple times to reach an operator.
The health department is working with several community partners — including Abounding Prosperity, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Community Health Empowerment and Prism Health North Texas — to distribute the limited doses of vaccine.
Prism Health, an HIV/AIDS healthcare organization, opened appointments Wednesday for the 300 doses of vaccine it received from the county. Within an hour, each slot was filled, said CEO Dr. John Carlo.
Beyond vaccinations, public health measures like social distancing and isolation if someone is infected with monkeypox can also help prevent the spread of the virus. At the press conference, Jenkins said he was concerned about large gatherings like festivals that could expose those most at risk to the virus.
At a Court of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Huang asked the commissioners if he could withdraw $100,000 from his preventative health division to respond to the monkeypox outbreak. The commissioners unanimously approved the request.
The funds will help cover investigative, monitoring and staffing needs.