Mayor Eric Adams declared a monkeypox state of emergency this past Monday, allowing him to temporarily override local laws to address the outbreak for at least the next 30 days.
“New York City now has over 1,200 reported cases, approximately 25 percent of cases nationally, and we are continuing to see the numbers rise,” said Adams in a statement. “This order will bolster our existing efforts to educate, vaccinate, test, and treat as many New Yorkers as possible and ensure a whole-of-government response to this outbreak.”
This announcement follows Gov. Kathy Hochul’s statewide executive order last week, which expands monkeypox vaccine eligibility to medical workers.
Currently, the shot is largely reserved for gay and bisexual men, along with any other men who engage in intercourse with other men, but transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming New Yorkers with multiple or anonymous sexual partners over the past two weeks also qualify if they’re over the age of 18. Those previously infected are protected and do not need to be immediately vaccinated. Monkeypox is transmitted through direct contact and anyone can catch it. But the aforementioned groups are disproportionately affected.
But sexuality and sexual health can both be touchy subjects for some and getting a monkeypox vaccine can be tricky for such New Yorkers. The city recommends scheduling appointments to avoid standing in line, minimizing the opportunity of interacting with others, and subsequently, the risk of getting outed.
Then there’s the matter of COVID-19, which remains more infectious than monkeypox, which is largely transferred through intimate contact. Dr. Olusimbo Ige, of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, knows folks are tired of public health precautions. She recommends self-care, but maintains the importance of remaining protected, both from the existing pandemic and the new outbreak.
“As much as we would rather not have to deal with another outbreak, here we are with another threat to New Yorkers,” said Ige, who serves as assistant commissioner at the Center for Health Equity and Community Wellness. “So part of that self care is for us to acknowledge what are threats to our health, and to do what we can to mitigate the threat.”
Reminiscent of protests against ex-president Donald Trump calling COVID-19 the “Chinavirus,” Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Ashwin Vasan penned a letter to the WHO demanding to rename monkeypox. He fears similar violence against gay New Yorkers that Asian Americans faced after Trump’s comments as well as the historical racist use of “monkey” to refer to certain communities of color.
“‘Monkeypox’ is a misnomer, as the virus does not originate in monkeys and was only classified as such due to an infection seen in research primates,” said Vasan. “And we know alternative terminology is possible and entities are starting to use terms such as ‘hMPXV’ and ‘MPV.’ We need leadership from the WHO to ensure consistency in naming and to reduce confusion to the public.”
Also back on the menu is social distancing. The health department recommends isolating for symptoms of chills, fever and respiratory issues—sound familiar? And sexual activity and other intimate contact should be strictly off-limits until all monkeypox sores are healed and a new layer is formed. It can be a two to four month process after the rashes appear. For working New Yorkers, taking time off can be tough, especially with the city reopening over the past year and employees often getting called back into offices. There’s no solution yet, but officials are encouraging workplaces to offer time off for those infected and are currently working with employers for solutions to the ongoing outbreak.
Those searching for a vaccine can text MONKEYPOX and MONKEYPOXSP for Spanish to 692692 for alerts and updates.
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w