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On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, as directed by President Joe Biden, declared a national health emergency for the contagious monkeypox virus.

The first case of Monkeypox has been identified in Colorado. Photo by UnSplash.

Monkeypox is continuing to surge in the United States and is now in most states. The highly contagious virus spread by skin-to-skin contact, as reported by Ark Valley Voice in May, was at first been as a virus that primarily impacted gay men. But as the weeks have gone by, the spread has grown, and it is now seen as a significant threat to all Americans.

The World Health Organization declared the monkeypox outbreak to be a global health emergency on July 23.  The rare designation means the WHO now views the outbreak as a significant enough threat to global health that a coordinated international response is needed. The WHO last issued a global health emergency in January 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak

Biden has been under intense pressure from activists and public health experts to move more aggressively to combat the monkeypox outbreak. But top federal health officials had resisted declaring an emergency, given how pandemic-weary Americans are in the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some experts say the declaration is long overdue. The declaration signals that the outbreak is a serious health threat to Americans and the declaration sets in motion a variety of measures devised to turn the tide. It would give federal agencies the power to direct money toward developing and evaluating vaccines and drugs, to access emergency funding, and to hire additional workers to help manage the outbreak, which began three months ago.

There is a national stockpile of a monkeypox vaccine — but it is by no means as much as might be needed. So far those vaccines have been reserved for high-risk populations. With the declaration, the federal and state health resources can begin to organize a response, and marshal the resources to address it.

No further details, including state and county-level responses have been announced. Many questions have been raised, including how seriously ill a person can become, how fast it could spread, and even whether older Americans who may have been vaccinated for smallpox in the 60s and 70s might have some sort of immunity.