The mayor of San Francisco announced a state of emergency Thursday over the growing number of monkeypox cases, allowing officials to cut through red tape and fight a public health crisis reminiscent of the AIDS epidemic that began devastating the city in the 1980s.
“We are in desperate need of vaccines to support the people of San Francisco,” Mayor London Breed said. The city has been pleading with federal health officials for more help, she said, but it has fallen on deaf ears.
The declaration, which takes effect Monday, was welcomed by gay advocates who have grown increasingly frustrated by what they called San Francisco’s lackluster response to a virus that so far has affected primarily men who have sex with men, although anyone can get infected.
“San Francisco was at the forefront of the public health responses to HIV and COVID-19, and we will be at the forefront when it comes to monkeypox,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat who represents the city. “We can’t and won’t leave the LGBTQ community out to dry.”
San Francisco’s health officer Dr. Susan Philip said the city is “an epicenter for the country. Thirty percent of all cases in California are in San Francisco.”
The city has 261 cases, out of about 800 in California and 4,600 nationwide, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. A national shortage of vaccine has resulted in people waiting in line for hours for scarce doses, often to be turned away when the shots run out.
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Members of the LGBTQ community expressed anger and frustration at a city hearing last week, saying they were relying on social media because the San Francisco public health department had not dispensed basic information on testing or vaccine availability.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman excoriated the department, saying it was unclear why it could not staff phone lines, especially after telling people to call those phone numbers for information, while the San Francisco AIDS Foundation was able to quickly staff an information hotline.
“It’s a bad look for San Francisco,” he said.
Resident Tom Temprano said it was unforgiveable that he was learning at the meeting that his appointment for a second shot would not be honored. The city decided to prioritize first shots over second shots so more people can get some protection.
San Francisco shut down its primary monkeypox vaccination clinic earlier this week after it ran out of doses, saying it had only received 7,800 doses of a requested 35,000. Officials said they expect 4,200 doses.
Despite the problems with vaccine supply, federal officials said Thursday that the country’s monkeypox outbreak can still be stopped, amid worries that the U.S. has missed the window to contain the virus.
The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, which includes sex, kissing, breathing at close range, and sharing bedding and clothing, the public health department said. Health officials are asking people who could be at risk to cover exposed skin when out in crowds and to watch out for symptoms, such as fever, blisters and rashes.
The World Health Organization over the weekend declared the monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries a global emergency.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed planned a news conference later Thursday.