Los Angeles County public health officers, who had been poised to take the controversial step of reinstating a universal indoor mask mandate as soon as today, announced Thursday they would not proceed with that plan due to improving coronavirus infection numbers and stabilizing hospitalization rates. (The BART board of directors, however, voted Thursday to reinstate the Bay Area public transit agency’s mask mandate through Oct. 1.)
- Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer: “We’re on a decline right now, and it’s hard for us to imagine reinstating universal indoor masking when we’re on this significant of a decline.”
The move came the same day that San Francisco declared a state of emergency over monkeypox, which will allow Mayor London Breed and other officials to more quickly funnel more resources into the city’s response to a virus that has disproportionately affected gay and bisexual men and transgender people. Demand for the monkeypox vaccine in San Francisco has consistently outpaced supply, with clinics closing earlier this week due to a shortage of shots.
The question: Will California will follow in San Francisco’s footsteps? State Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, on Wednesday urged both the city and the state to declare a monkeypox state of emergency.
- Wiener: “Unfortunately, because our federal government failed to act quickly to acquire the vaccine supplies needed to prevent an outbreak, we are now in a public health emergency that is only going to escalate. Given that gay and bi men and trans people are the most impacted, it’s sadly becoming clear that we are being left behind once again.”
- A spokesperson for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office told me in a statement: “California is taking this outbreak very seriously and the state will continue to work with local health departments and community advocates to ensure that we’re able to assist in providing care, testing, and information to everyone who needs it. The administration has requested more vaccines from the federal government and contacted the manufacturer directly to ask for more.”
- The California Department of Public Health estimated last week that it needs at least 600,000 to 800,000 additional doses of the monkeypox vaccine for the highest-risk populations: gay and bisexual men and transgender and nonbinary people with two or more sexual partners.
Meanwhile, 11 Democratic state lawmakers sent U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra a Thursday letter seeking permission to use federal funds earmarked for specific uses — including fighting COVID — to combat monkeypox. California’s local health departments received nearly $1.5 billion, and “being able to leverage these funds for our immediate monkeypox response needs would be instrumental,” the lawmakers wrote.
State lawmakers last week also urged Newsom, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins to make an emergency budget appropriation to help counties expand their monkeypox vaccination, testing, treatment, education and outreach efforts. Rendon also asked Becerra to declare a federal public health emergency and make more vaccines available to the states.
California had 786 reported probable and confirmed monkeypox cases as of Thursday. A little more than 47,200 vaccine doses had been distributed to local health departments as of July 19, according to the state Department of Public Health.