Following the World Health Organization’s decision to declare monkeypox a Global Health Emergency, local Public Health Departments are vowing to stay prepared for any potential local outbreaks that may come.
The WHO declared that the virus now constitutes a Global Health Outbreak on July 23, after more than 16,000 cases were reported across the world. The declaration is relatively uncommon, though six similar declarations have been issued in the last 12 years.
Even though the virus hasn’t made its way to southern Minnesota yet, health officials here and across the state are receiving regular briefings on it from state officials. Le Sueur County Public Health Director Megan Kirby said that coordination with the state is quickly expanding into public education efforts.
Public health officials say reliable vaccines and tests for monkeypox are available, but they’re very limited in supply. As a result, it’s not recommended for most of the public to receive them at this time, unless they’ve had high-risk contact with someone with a confirmed monkeypox case.
Waseca County Public Health Director Sarah Berry said that while the risk to the public has not increased notably, people should still be on guard for the virus and make sure to be diligent about practicing basic hygiene to minimize their chance of catching it.
While monkeypox may be garnering big headlines, local public health officials emphasized that COVID-19 remains by far the more pertinent threat to area residents. Two and a half years since the virus first hit, it continues its slow burn across the state.
According to the New York Times COVID tracker, approximately 1,437 cases per day were reported over the last week. While the tracker doesn’t indicate that southern Minnesota has seen a disproportionate share of those cases, other indicators show increased susceptibility for area residents.
The CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels Tracker indicates that residents of Rice and Steele County currently face an elevated risk of COVID-19. In addition, wastewater data indicates a sharp increase in COVID-19 in the state’s South Central region.
In order to keep COVID in check, local Public Health officials once again emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated. Rice County Public Health’s Deb Purfeerst said that she’s been encouraged to see an uptick in vaccinations recently.
Along with other local public health directors, Purfeerst has emphasized that vaccination is the safest bet to protect members of the public, along with their family, friends and neighbors from severe illness, hospitalization and death.
Berry said that her office is closely monitoring a potential localized outbreak and focused on containment. While the available data is more limited due to the abundance of at-home testing, she said that public health officials particularly want to shield the elderly and other particularly at-risk groups from COVID exposure.
Monkeypox has been endemic for decades in a number of African countries. The virus, which features distinctive rashes alongside other symptoms such as headache, fever, soreness and exhaustion, circulates in animal populations in west and central Africa, which has regularly caused outbreaks among humans in those areas.
However, the recent spread of monkeypox has been driven by human to human transmission. This has primarily occurred via male on male sexual contact, although the CDC says it can spread in other ways, such as contact with a surface recently touched by an infected person.
In Minnesota, 33 cases had been reported as of July 29. All were among men, a majority of whom reported having had physical relations with other men, and nearly all were among residents of the Twin Cities metro area.