The Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Aug. 4 in hopes of accelerating a response and recognition of the transmission of the disease, in addition to helping mobilize more resources for the outbreak.
The declaration should last 90 days. Monkeypox is rarely fatal, and no deaths have been reported in the United States so far.
According to the World Health Organization, the disease spread through sexual transmission among gay and bisexual men from two raves held in Spain and Belgium.
The disease is typically confined to Central and West Africa, where people are affected by consuming bushmeat — wild animals hunted for human consumption.
The strategies in place at Northwell Health to decrease the rate of monkeypox transmission are consistent with current public health guidelines. Guidelines were adopted early, including early testing of people with comparable symptoms and vaccination for those at high risk — gay and bisexual men who engage in sex with other men.
However, experts at Northwell stated that just because a community is affected by something, does not mean that the community is predisposed or more likely to transmit the disease.
“We have no excuse coming out of a two-year Covid pandemic to not be able to get monkeypox under control.” Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena, director of Global Health at Northwell Health, said. “In terms of infectiousness, if Covid is a Ferrari, monkeypox is a bicycle. It’s much harder to get.”
Monkeypox requires much more intimate contact than Covid. It is not transmittable when sitting in a car with someone or being with someone in an office. Transmission occurs after close contact, which is mostly skin to skin.
Monkeypox is most contagious when lesions appear, or when there is a flu-like illness before lesions appear. People can be contagious for up to four weeks with active symptoms and must isolate for that time.
“Because we have slow uptakes of testing and vaccination, this is something we should really be able to get under control quicker than Covid,” Cioe-Pena said.
He added that vaccines are limited in the United States, so they must be used strategically.
“We don’t really quite know if there’s something different about this strain quite yet,” Cioe-Pena said. “Genetically is seems very similar to all other strains of monkeypox.”
Since the outbreak is currently affecting gay men, those who remember the AIDS epidemic have reflected on the current monkeypox outbreak.
“When you hear about a virus that’s affecting a community that tends to be marginalized already, my first reaction was that I hope history doesn’t repeat itself,” said Glen Cove City Councilwoman Marsha Silverman, an outspoken member of the LGBTQ community.
She added that she’s grateful for the government’s early reaction to monkeypox, compared to the AIDS crisis.
Sarah Kate Ellis, the chief executive of GLAAD and a Sea Cliff resident, said it’s good that the government responded to monkeypox at its early onset.
But she warned that it’s dangerous to compare monkeypox to AIDS since it’s not lethal. Drawing comparisons to the two diseases is dangerous, she said, and there should be more focus on prevention.
“We’re not getting the vaccines and medicines that we need quickly enough,” she said.