Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued an emergency declaration Friday morning due to the monkeypox outbreak as cases of the virus top 200.
The declaration comes one day after the Biden administration declared monkeypox a federal public health emergency amid a nationwide vaccine shortage. Dallas County represents the largest portion of cases in the state, with 209 confirmed and 29 suspected cases as of Thursday.
“We’re going to defeat monkeypox through tracing people who have been in contact with a person with monkeypox, testing them and getting the vaccine now to the most vulnerable populations,” Jenkins said in a press conference.
The county health department recently expanded who is eligible for the monkeypox vaccine to include men who have sex with men who if they have had multiple or anonymous partners in the last two weeks. Originally, it had only been available to those who had direct contact with an infected individual. But the additional appointments are still not enough to meet 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 and 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 businesses.
“We’re trusting businesses that are open every day like clubs where people dance will be responsible,” Jenkins said. “You can still go dance, just make sure to have your shirt on and limit skin-to-skin contact with strangers.”
Monkeypox, a virus similar to the now-extinct smallpox virus, primarily spreads through skin-to-skin contact or contact with contaminated materials like bedding or clothing. The virus causes flu-like symptoms and a blistery rash that may be located on or near the genitals.
The symptoms, which can be very painful, typically start within three weeks of exposure to the virus. The illness typically lasts two-to-four weeks and is rarely fatal.
County health director Dr. Philip Huang said there have been some hospitalizations related to the current monkeypox outbreak but did not have an exact number. A 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 not at high risk for monkeypox not to try and get the vaccine.
“But if you are… in any of those high-risk groups, please then contact us and get on our waiting list,” he said.
Dallas County struggled with high call volumes Tuesday following the eligibility expansion for the vaccine. Jenkins tweeted that people calling the monkeypox hotline may need to try multiple times to get through to 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 vaccine doses.
Prism Health, an HIV/AIDS health care organization, opened appointments Wednesday for the 300 vaccine doses it received from the county. Within an hour, every slot was filled, CEO Dr. John Carlo said.
Beyond vaccinations, public health measures like social distancing and isolating if someone is infected with monkeypox can also help prevent the spread of the virus. During the press conference, Jenkins said he was concerned about large gatherings like festivals that could expose people who are most at-risk to the virus.
At a Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday, Huang asked commissioners if he could move $100,000 from its preventative health division to respond to the monkeypox outbreak. Commissioners unanimously approved the request.
The funds will help cover investigating, monitoring and staffing needs.