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Austin-area officials issue emergency order regarding monkeypox

Local leaders are working to request more state resources, including more vaccines.

AUSTIN, Texas — Local authorities, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown, gathered Tuesday to declare a joint emergency order regarding rising cases of monkeypox in the Austin area.

Adler and Brown were joined by Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes at City Hall, where they discussed their request for more resources to address the virus and efforts to increase awareness and public education.

"With limited supplies of vaccine resources, we're calling on our state and our federal partners to help us get more vaccines in Austin and Travis County," said Brown. "We need the federal government to increase the amount of vaccine available, and we need the Texas state government to speed up the process when we request more vaccine locally."

As of Tuesday, Austin Public Health and other local clinics are ready to distribute more vaccines. Brown added that local infrastructure is already prepared once supply increases.

Tuesday's news comes after the federal government just last week declared a public health emergency over the monkeypox outbreak, which has now infected thousands of Americans. Last week's announcement also aimed to free up money and other resources to fight the virus, which is known to cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the human body.

As of Tuesday, Travis County has reported 68 potential cases of monkeypox – 9 confirmed and 59 presumptive. Local cases are updated weekly online on Thursdays.

University of Texas Health Services posted online with fall semester starting soon, leaders believe spread on campus will mirror the spread in Austin-Travis County.

"The university has mitigation protocols in place for communicable disease. The risk to the broader campus community remains low, and the monkeypox virus does not spread easily without close contact. Like other illnesses with similar modes of transmission, we provide public health education to the community, appropriate training to healthcare providers, and collaborate with key stakeholders on any environmental strategies needed to reduce the incidence or spread within our population," a spokesperson with UT Health Services said in a statement.

"We started with our first case on June 23," said Dr. Walkes. "This particular virus is spread by close, direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the rash or has symptoms of the fever, chills, etc. And when somebody develops symptoms, they are infectious. They are not recovered until all of the skin's clear of scabs and there's a fresh layer of skin." 

The infection can spread by the touching of the skin containing the scabs or lesions and their related fluids, as well as via respiratory secretions, so Walkes said masking is important.

Austin Public Health has received a limited supply of the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine. It is evaluating those who are high-risk close contacts to monkeypox cases for vaccination eligibility, following the criteria of both the Texas Department of State Health Services and the CDC. 

APH said only those who had a sexual partner in the past 14 days who was diagnosed with monkeypox or those who had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days in a jurisdiction with known monkeypox are currently eligible to receive the vaccine. APH is also evaluating those who are at high risk and had close contact with someone who had monkeypox.

Mayor Adler reported that Austin Public Health has receive 3,154 of the 56,000 doses of vaccine available nationwide during the first phase of vaccine rollouts.

"It is not enough," said Adler. "We need the federal government to do everything it can to increase availability of medicine and vaccine to our community and to others."

Walkes said that as resources become more scarce, it is imperative for the community to do its part to help limit the spread of monkeypox.

"And that is wash hands, avoid direct skin-to-skin contact by covering your skin when you can," said Walkes. "For those who are sick or have rash, stay home and isolate until you recover. And for those who are in a situation where they're looking at sending children back to school, and for those who are going back to university, we provide the guidance to take measures to protect yourself in that way as well."

The Austin City Council will also be discussing an emergency item regarding monkeypox at its Aug. 11 meeting.

"The council will consider a resolution ratifying a Declaration of Local State of Disaster in response to concerns related to confirmed and probable orthopoxvirus/monkeypox cases in Texas and in Austin-Travis County; and consenting to a continuation of the disaster declaration for a period of more than seven days," the City of Austin said in a press release.

For more information on monkeypox in the Austin area, click here.

Watch Tuesday's full press conference below:

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