SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The mayor of San Francisco on Thursday announced a state of emergency over the growing number of monkeypox cases, allowing officials to cut red tape and combat a public health crisis reminiscent of the AIDS epidemic that to devastate the city in the US began 1980s.
“We are in a very scary place. And we don’t want to be ignored by the federal government in our distress. So many leaders in the LGBT community also asked for extra help, support and support weeks ago,” said Mayor of London Breed.
The city “needs urgently vaccines,” she said.
The statement, which goes into effect Monday, was welcomed by gay advocates who are increasingly frustrated by what they call San Francisco’s lackluster response to a virus that has so far mostly affected men who have sex with men, although anyone can be infected.
“San Francisco has been at the forefront of public health responses to HIV and COVID-19, and we will be at the forefront when it comes to monkeypox,” said Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat representing the city. “We cannot and will not let the LGBTQ community down.”
The city has 281 cases, out of about 800 in California and 4,600 statewide, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. A national vaccine shortage has left people waiting for hours for tight doses, often being turned away when shots run out.
Members of the LGBTQ community expressed anger and frustration at a hearing in the city last week and said they were relying on social media because the San Francisco Department of Health had failed to release basic information about testing or vaccine availability.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman angered the department, saying it was unclear why she couldn’t man phone lines, particularly after telling people to call those phone numbers for information while the San Francisco AIDS Foundation was able to quickly man a monkeypox information hotline. The organization has also set up a waiting list for people who want the vaccine, in contrast to the health department, which forces people to wait in line.
“It’s looking bad for San Francisco,” he said.
After Tom Temprano, 36, attended San Francisco Pride weekend in late June, he received a notification that at least one other attendee had tested positive for monkeypox. He called four numbers provided by local health officials to get vaccinated, but no one answered. He left voice messages.
“I’ve waited and I’ve waited and I’ve waited,” Temprano said, “and there was just kind of — I think for me and a lot of people — just growing concern for our safety as we got further and further from an exposure.” “
Finally, on July 8, two weeks after possibly being exposed to the virus at the Pride event and monitoring gay social media networks the entire time, he learned through an Instagram post that there was a vaccine drop-in at the San Francisco General -Clinic was held hospital. The poster said drop everything and go now. Temprano texted half a dozen people and rushed over.
He waited with hundreds of other people in a line that snaked out onto the street and half a block down. After waiting three and a half hours, Temprano, the political director of San Francisco-based Equality California, got his first dose of the vaccine. One of his friends waited in line four times before he could get the shot.
Temprano was due to receive its second dose next week but that was canceled – with the vaccine in short supply city officials have opted to give priority to the first dose in humans. He is frustrated that authorities have taken so long to respond, noting they did so after LGBTQ politicians in his community spoke out.
“I think the saddest thing is there are people who are getting monkeypox now who have been trying to get this vaccine for the last month and a half and haven’t been able to get one who are sick and in pain and may be for two to six weeks out of work,” he said.
Wiener had urged local and state officials to declare a public health emergency, which would give the city and counties more flexibility to respond to the growing outbreak. For example, it would make it easier to get test results out to people and allow a wider range of providers to provide vaccinations.
The gay Viennese also noticed parallels to the AIDS crisis in San Francisco.
“I feel like this is like déjà vu – that once again gay men are being attacked and demonized and blamed when we get sick and that we can never tolerate that,” he said.
In the early 1980s, the US government was slow to respond as the AIDS epidemic devastated gay communities in San Francisco and elsewhere. Groups like ACT UP emerged to push for action to combat AIDS. That struggle still has echoes today.
Despite problems with vaccine supplies, federal officials said Thursday the monkeypox outbreak in the country has yet to be halted amid concerns the US has missed the window to contain the virus.
The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged skin contact that includes sex, kissing, breathing at close range and sharing bedding and clothing, the health department said. Health officials are asking people who may be at risk to cover exposed skin when in crowds and watch for symptoms such as fever, blisters and rashes.
The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of monkeypox in more than 70 countries a global emergency over the weekend.
Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon. Associated Press writer Janie Har also contributed to this story.
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