Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued the emergency declaration Friday morning due to the monkeypox outbreak as cases of the virus top 200.
The declaration comes one day after the Biden administration declared monkeypox a federal public health emergency amid a national vaccine shortage. Dallas County accounts for the largest share of cases in the state, with 209 confirmed and 29 suspected cases as of Thursday.
“We’re going to beat monkeypox by tracking down people who have been in contact with someone with monkeypox, testing them and getting the vaccine now to the most vulnerable populations,” Jenkins said at a news conference.
The county health department recently expanded the number of individuals eligible for the monkeypox vaccine to include men who have sex with men who, if they have had multiple or anonymous partners in the past two weeks. Initially, it was only available to those who had direct contact with an infected person. But the additional appointments are still not enough to meet the demand.
Last week, Dallas County received a shipment of just over 5,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine.
Jenkins said the county will use the emergency declaration to try to get more doses of the vaccine being distributed by the federal government. Unlike emergency declarations made during the COVID-19 pandemic, monkeypox emergency declarations do not require any businesses to close.
“We trust businesses that are open every day like clubs where people dance will be held accountable,” Jenkins said. “You can still go dancing, just make sure you keep your shirt on and limit skin-to-skin contact with strangers.”
Monkeypox, a virus similar to the now-extinct smallpox virus, is spread primarily through skin-to-skin contact or contact with contaminated materials such as bedding or clothing. The virus causes flu-like symptoms and a blistering rash that may be on or near the genitals.
Symptoms, which can be very painful, usually begin within three weeks of exposure to the virus. The illness usually lasts two to four weeks and is rarely fatal.
County health director Dr. Philip Huang said there are some hospitalizations related to the current monkeypox outbreak, but he does not have an exact number. The majority of cases have occurred in men who have sex with men, although the virus can spread to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.
Huang urged people who are not at high risk of monkeypox not to try to get the vaccine.
“But if you are … in any of these high-risk groups, please contact us and get on our waiting list,” he said.
Dallas County struggled with a high volume of calls Tuesday following the expansion of vaccine eligibility. Jenkins tweeted that people calling the monkeypox hotline may have to try multiple times to get through to an operator.
The health department is working with several community partners — including Abounding Prosperity, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Community Health Empowerment and Prism Health North Texas — to distribute the limited vaccine doses.
Prism Health, an HIV/AIDS health organization, opened appointments Wednesday for the 300 vaccine doses it received from the county. Within an hour, every seat was filled, said CEO Dr. John Carlo.
In addition to vaccinations, public health measures such as social distancing and isolation if someone is infected with monkeypox can also help prevent the virus from spreading. During the news conference, Jenkins said he was concerned about large gatherings such as festivals that could expose the people most at risk of the virus.
At a Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, Huang asked commissioners if he could transfer $100,000 from the Department of Preventive Health to respond to the monkeypox outbreak. Commissioners unanimously approved the request.
The funds will help cover investigative, surveillance and staffing needs.