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Monkeypox cases increase; 39 of 42 countywide cases are patients in Coachella Valley

Riverside University Health System-Public Health announced on Thursday an additional 7 new probable/confirmed cases of monkeypox.

Five of those cases patients in the Coachella Valley, while the other two cases are from western Riverside County.

There are now a total of 39 probable/confirmed monkeypox cases in the Coachella Valley and 42 total cases in Riverside County.

All of the cases are men between the ages of 30 and 70.

Riverside County has not declared a health emergency at this time. We reached out to the county to answer why.

Q: Does Riverside County not having declared monkeypox a public health emergency put the county at a disadvantage to getting more access and quicker access to vaccines?

County Response: No, the proclamation of a public health emergency does not impact our ability to get vaccines (either more or faster) from the federal or state government. Vaccine allocation is determined based on a formula at the CDC (for state allocation) and at the CDPH (for allocation to local health jurisdictions).

Q: How does the state and now federal public health emergency impact how the county mobilizes its response?

County Response: Riverside County mobilized our response when monkeypox was first recognized. Work has been ongoing around surveillance, testing, messaging, street outreach, vaccination and antiviral availability. While we do not have enough vaccine or TPOXX available, we are working closely with community providers and community/faith-based organizations to deliver what we do have to people who meet the criteria for being at greatest risk. As vaccine and TPOXX supply increases, we will be increasing the amount allocated to providers and increase the frequency/size of our vaccination clinics. We are also hopeful that the declaration of a public health emergency at the federal level will result in funding from the federal government for the monkeypox response.

Watch: Eisenhower Health’s Chief Medical Officer answers questions about monkeypox

Biden Administration declares the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency

The Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday.

The announcement came during a briefing with the Department of Health and Human Services.

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in response to the monkeypox outbreak on August 1.

Since the first U.S. monkeypox case was identified in mid-May, more than 6,600 probable or confirmed cases have been detected nationwide. Cases have been identified in every state except Montana and Wyoming.

Health officials are considering changing the way monkeypox vaccine doses are administered because the country is “at a critical inflection point” with the virus’ spread, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf told reporters on Thursday.

“In recent days, it’s become clear to all of us that given the continued spread of the virus, we’re at a critical inflection point, dictating the need for additional solutions to address the rise in infection rates,” Califf said. He added "the goal has always been to vaccinate as many people as possible."

Monkeypox CDC2

Palm Springs has launched a monkeypox landing page to help provide information to its residents. Click here to visit the page.

CJ Tobe, Director of Community Health and Sexual Wellness at DAP Health, said the Palm Springs-based health center is leading the region’s monkeypox response, but resources are low.  

“We desperately need more vaccines to be put in arms of our most at-risk people in our community right now, said Tobe.” He added, "there’s currently 66,000 vaccines that have been administered by the state health department here in California, and DAP Health has only received 657 of them.”

DAP Health is leading the monkeypox response through partnerships. In addition to working with the state and county, it is also working with business leaders at Cathedral City Boys Club and business leaders in the sex tourism industry.

The goal is to determine how they "can get education, testing, and vaccines to the most at-risk people," said CJ Tobe, Director of Community Health and Sexual Wellness at DAP Health.

DAP Health also partners with Desert Care District, which does not currently administer the monkeypox vaccine or the antiviral medication TPOXX to patients. It said, however, it has requested an allocation of vaccine from the county.

Statement from Desert Care Network

Eisenhower Health, Borrego Health, and DAP Health are currently the only facilities in the Coachella Valley that administer the monkeypox vaccine.

"We have 657 available vaccines and we wish we had about 60,000 right now, but since we are rationing vaccines because there has been such a response, we have to make sure that those 657 vaccines are getting into people most at risk," said Tobe.

DAP Health is following CDC guidelines to determine eligibility, and administering its limited supply of vaccines by invite only to 2,000 patients on a waitlist.

"Anybody who has a bacterial sexually transmitted infection, such as Gonorrhea and Syphilis, they currently have a known exposure to someone who has tested positive for monkeypox but they themselves currently are not experiencing any symptoms, or people that are doing sex work," said Tobe.

He explained that DAP Health has not received any communication from the county that explains whether the federal government's public health emergency would expedite the delivery of vaccines to DAP Health quicker than what was projected.

"I've heard its going to be a good six to eight weeks before we really get a good supply of vaccines available here in our region," said Tobe.

Additional cases of monkeypox in the Coachella Valley are increasing demand for the vaccine, however, DAP Health is reminding the public to remain patient until more supplies are available.

“Part of keeping this community safe, is ensuring that the most vulnerable people and most at risk people in our community get access to these vaccines first,” said Tobe. "We know that 98% of monkeypox cases are men who have sex with men. It's people having group sex, its sex workers, its massage therapists. So right now while everybody wants a vaccine, we don't have enough to vaccinate everybody who wants one," added Tobe.

Flu-like symptoms can occur in monkeypox patients, but "the most classic symptom is a rash," said Jennifer Chevinsky, MD, Deputy Public Health Officer at Riverside County Health.

"If you have a rash that’s unfamiliar to you and you’re concerned it might be monkeypox, I recommend you talk with your healthcare provider to see whether or not your rash should be tested for monkeypox,” explained Dr. Chevinsky.

Resources

There are a number of ways to prevent the spread of monkeypox, including:

  • Always talking to your sexual partner/s about any recent illness and being aware of new or unexplained sores or rashes on your body or your partner’s body, including on the genitals and anus
  • Avoiding close contact, including sex, with people with symptoms like sores or rashes
  • Practicing good hand hygiene
  • People who become infected should isolate until their symptoms are improving or have gone away completely. Rash should always be well covered until completely healed.
  • Using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) (like a mask, gown, and gloves) when caring for others with symptoms
  • Avoiding contact with infected materials contaminated with the virus
  • Avoiding contact with infected animals

Monkeypox is generally spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, resulting from infectious rashes and scabs, though respiratory secretions and bodily fluids exchanged during extended physical episodes, such as sexual intercourse, can also lead to transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Symptoms include fresh pimples, blisters, rashes, fever and fatigue. There is no specific treatment. People who have been infected with smallpox, or have been vaccinated for it, may have immunity to monkeypox.

People with symptoms are urged to visit a medical provider, cover the rash area with clothing, wear a mask and avoid close or skin-to-skin contact with others.

The CDC particularly recommends those steps for people who recently traveled to an area where monkeypox cases have been reported or who have had contact with a confirmed or suspected monkeypox case.

A full list of countries that have confirmed monkeypox cases is available at wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/monkeypox.
A state-by-state tally of cases is available at www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/response/2022/us-map.html.

Link: CDC’s tips for preventing exposure to Monkeypox. 

The Riverside University Health System Public Health website links to a Monkeypox vaccine interest form.

Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing coverage.

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Jennifer Franco

Jennifer Franco is the weekend anchor/weekday reporter for KESQ News Channel 3

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