President Joe Biden on Tuesday named a team of disaster management and health officials to lead the U.S. response to the monkeypox outbreak as infections continue to rise.
Biden appointed Robert Fenton, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as the head of U.S. efforts to quash the outbreak. Fenton currently leads the FEMA region that includes California, one of the states hardest hit by monkeypox.
The president named Demetre Daskalakis, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of HIV prevention, as the U.S. deputy monkeypox response coordinator. Daskalakis is an expert on health issues affecting the LGBTQ community, the White House said.
Fenton and Daskalakis will work with state and local authorities to ensure they have enough tests, vaccines and antiviral treatments to fight the virus, according to the White House. They will also assist with efforts to educate the public on how the virus spreads.
The U.S. has reported nearly 6,000 cases of monkeypox across across 48 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak has spread swiftly since health authorities in Boston confirmed the first U.S. case in May.
California, Illinois and New York, home to the nation’s three largest cities, are the hardest hit states. The governors in all three states have declared emergencies in response to the outbreak.
The pace of the federal effort to contain the outbreak has faced criticism from lawmakers in Congress and local communities. But Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said last week said the federal government has done everything it can to ramp up resources.
The U.S. has delivered more than 330,000 monkeypox vaccine doses so far, and HHS offered another 786,0000 doses to state and local authorities on Friday. Demand for the vaccines has outstripped supply as the outbreak grows, leading to long lines at clinics and protests in some cities.
Gay and bisexual men are at the highest risk of infection right now, though public health officials have repeatedly emphasized that anyone can catch monkeypox through close physical contact with someone who has a rash from the disease or through contact with contaminated materials such as towels and bedsheets.
Monkeypox is rarely fatal, and no deaths have been reported in the U.S. so far. But some patients suffer excruciating pain from the rash caused by the virus. Roughly 10% of all patients with the virus are hospitalized because of the pain and to isolate from others, World Health Organization officials said last week. Monkeypox is primarily spreading through skin-to-skin contact during sex at the moment.