WASHINGTON – The Biden administration said Friday that it did not expect to extend its declaration of a public health emergency for the outbreak of mpox, formerly known as monkeypox, past its scheduled expiration at the end of January, a signal that the disease no longer constitutes a crisis-level threat in the United States.
Xavier Becerra, the health and human services secretary, cited the low number of new virus cases as he announced the administration’s plans.
“We won’t take our foot off the gas – we will continue to monitor the case trends closely and encourage all at-risk individuals to get a free vaccine,” Becerra said.
While the disease has not been eradicated in the United States, the announcement Friday served as an acknowledgment that the virus had been mostly suppressed. The Department of Health and Human Services said the administration was working toward “a durable end of mpox transmission.”
Since the country’s first case in this year’s outbreak was identified in May, nearly 30,000 cases and 19 deaths have been tallied in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the nation is now averaging fewer than 10 cases per day – a steep decline from the roughly 450 daily cases at the peak of the outbreak in early August.
Public health experts have attributed that trend to a number of factors, including higher vaccination rates, adjustments in behavior among people at high risk of acquiring the disease and the relative difficulty of contracting the virus, which is spread through close contact. The disease has spread primarily among men who have sex with men.
Becerra declared the public health emergency in August. At the time, the federal government was scrambling to catch up to a widening outbreak caused in part by the administration’s own sluggish reaction to the early weeks of the virus’s spread in the United States. Supplies of vaccines and tests were initially constrained, and federal scientists struggled to procure data on mpox.
Gay rights activists critical of the administration had been demanding an emergency declaration for weeks before the August announcement.
The declaration allowed HHS to mount a more aggressive and well-funded response.
Most critically, public health experts said, it allowed for data-sharing agreements among state health departments, health providers and federal agencies, enabling the CDC to better track cases and vaccination rates.
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