Florida has the third-highest number of monkeypox cases in the United States, and pressure is mounting on Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency.
Florida cases have more than doubled since early last week, with 1,085 infections reported as of Thursday, according to state data.
Infections are rising in Tampa Bay, but the local case count is still low compared to the outbreak in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which accounts for three-quarters of the state’s cases.
In Hillsborough County, the number of cases has jumped fivefold in two weeks to 42; Pinellas County’s has more than doubled to 39; and Pasco County has reported four infections, according to state data.
Monkeypox, which is endemic in parts of central and west Africa, is a viral disease similar to smallpox but milder.
While a vaccine exists to fight it, doses are limited. Florida plans to boost availability by using a new injection method authorized this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Since mid-May, the virus has been spreading across the world. The U.S. has reported more than 10,700 cases and zero deaths.
“I’m optimistic this is something we can still bring under control, but it’s kind of a ‘wait-and-see,’” said Jill Roberts, a molecular epidemiologist and professor at the University of South Florida.
DeSantis blasts emergency declarations
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a global nonprofit based in Los Angeles with clinics in Florida, has called on DeSantis to declare a state of emergency.
California and New York — the two states with more cases than Florida — have already declared emergencies. So has Illinois.
A state of emergency allows the governor to suspend regulations that might delay action during an ongoing crisis and gives the state more flexibility to reallocate resources to address a disaster.
DeSantis dismissed the idea last week during a news conference.
“I am so sick of politicians — and we saw this with COVID — trying to sow fear into the population,” he said. “We are not going to go out and try to rile people up.”
Florida is “fully capable” of handling the outbreak without an emergency declaration, said Jeremy Redfern, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health.
But Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert and professor at Florida International University, argued that a state of emergency would show residents that monkeypox is important. It would also bolster Florida’s response, she said.
Florida aims to boost vaccine supply
The supply of Jynneos, a two-dose monkeypox vaccine, is still limited across the country.
Florida has received about 66,000 doses of Jynneos since the outbreak began, according to federal data current as of Wednesday.
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Federal regulators on Tuesday allowed health care workers to start injecting the vaccine between layers of the skin instead of into the underlying fatty tissue. This method uses one-fifth of a dose, and would allow for more shots in arms.
In the coming days, county health departments and private clinics in Florida will start using the new method. Providers can decide to keep giving doses the old way if they want, Redfern added.
While the move will expand the availability of shots, for now, demand still outweighs supply.
“We don’t have the ability yet to offer a vaccine to everybody who wants one,” Redfern said.
Consider limiting sexual partners, guidance says
Given the vaccine shortage, sexually active Americans should consider limiting partners to reduce the risk of contracting the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Anyone can get monkeypox, but most cases during the current outbreak have been reported among men who have sex with men, health officials say.
Scientists believe the virus is mostly being transmitted during sexual activity. Monkeypox can be spread via contact with an infected person’s rash or scabs.
The trajectory of Tampa Bay’s outbreak remains unclear, said Roberts, the University of South Florida professor.
But cases have started to plateau in the United Kingdom, which is promising news.
“We should recognize that the most important thing to do right now is to get the limited resources to the people that need them most,” Roberts said.