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Is the US going into lockdown in 2022 over monkeypox?

Bruno Cooke August 5, 2022
Is the US going into lockdown in 2022 over monkeypox?
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The Biden administration has declared the current ongoing monkeypox outbreak of 2022 a public health emergency in the US, raising questions over whether or not American citizens are likely to face a lockdown in the near future.

In its primer on the viral disease from May this year, The Atlantic observed that the outbreak was “testing whether the world has learned anything from COVID.”

Anyone who lived through the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic will know what it means to go into lockdown to halt the spread of a virus. And most, if not all, will be reluctant to go through it all again.

So, what do we know about the likelihood of the US going into lockdown over the 2022 monkeypox outbreak? Have monkeypox cases led to lockdowns in the past?

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Is the US going into lockdown as a result of the 2022 monkeypox outbreak?

Currently, the answer to this question is no. And for two important reasons, it’s likely to remain no.

The Biden administration has declared the monkeypox outbreak to be a public health emergency in the US. 

“In light of all of these developments and the evolving circumstances on the ground,” health secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters during a call on Thursday, August 4, 2022, “I want to make an announcement today that I will be declaring a public health emergency.”

But there has been no word (yet) on such preventative measures as lockdowns. So what does it mean when a public health emergency is declared?

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Why did Becerra declare a public health emergency?

Health secretary Xavier Becerra’s public health emergency declaration means several things.

For example, following a section 319 public health emergency declaration, the health secretary can access funds they otherwise would not be able to access. These include “no-year” funds and the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund.

They can also waive certain requirements of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), and certain Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule requirements.

The key takeaway is that it will allow the government to mobilize more resources to fight the outbreak. Find the full list via the US government’s Public Health Emergency website here.

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Have lockdowns been used to combat monkeypox outbreaks before and will we see one in 2022?

There are many differences between monkeypox and COVID-19. Two differences are particularly relevant to questions surrounding the possibility of the US, or any other country, going into lockdown in 2022 in order to prevent the spread of monkeypox.

The first is that the world already has vaccines and therapeutics against the monkeypox virus. COVID, Fierce Pharma notes, involved a novel coronavirus. It was new and required new vaccines. 

Already existing countermeasures, therefore, suggest “the potential spreading can be effectively halted without implementing draconian containment measures that may hurt the global economy,” the organization quotes Berenberg analyst Zhiqiang Shu as saying.

The second key difference is that, while COVID is airborne, monkeypox is harder to transmit. Per the CDC, it can spread “through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact,” and during “intimate contact.” That means, at least in theory, it’s not necessary to implement a lockdown to prevent its spread.

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Has the disease ever spread to the US before?

Humans first discovered monkeypox in laboratory monkeys in 1958. That’s where it gets its name. But more recent transmissions are largely down to rodents.

Scientists consider rodents to be “natural reservoirs of infection,” according to UK government research. Examples include “rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, non-human primates.”

The only significant US outbreak of monkeypox pre-2022 was in 2003. A shipment of rodents from Ghana spread the virus to dogs in Illinois. The dogs infected fewer than 50 people, and none fatally.

While the 2022 monkeypox outbreak is unlikely to lead to a pandemic – and unlikely to require lockdowns to curb – it is nevertheless “very concerning”, writes The Atlantic.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.