Monkeypox is now a ‘health emergency’ in the United States


Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

The Biden administration says monkeypox is a national health emergency. The declaration comes a week after the World Health Organization and several states already made such a declaration.

Such emergencies last for 90 days but can be extended.

The declaration allows the government to offer contracts for treatments and supplies, but it will not speed up delivery of monkeypox vaccines, which are in short supply. An emergency declaration allows the Department of Defense to deploy personnel to help manage the emergency, as it has for the COVID-19 pandemic. It also makes it easier to use telemedicine.

The global case count stands at about 26,000 and 6,616 of those cases are in the U.S., which means the United States has the highest case count in the world.

NBC News provides other updated details about who has been infected:

All but 1% of U.S. monkeypox cases so far are people who were assigned male at birth, the Department of Health and Human Services said last week.

The WHO recently advised men who have sex with men to reduce their number of sexual partners and reconsider sex with new partners while the outbreak is ongoing.

The average U.S. monkeypox patient is around 35 years old, but people of all ages can be infected. The CDC has recorded five cases in children: two in California, two in Indiana and an infant who is not a U.S. resident who tested positive in Washington, D.C.

The California and Indiana health departments declined to provide details about their pediatric cases, but Jennifer Rice Epstein, the public affairs officer at the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services, said the patient in her city was exposed via a close contact.

We live in a time when we have come to expect that pharmaceutical companies can quickly invent a vaccine that is safe and effective, so why are big companies like Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson not pivoting to produce a vaccine to prevent monkeypox from becoming a new pandemic?

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel shed some light on that while talking with shareholders and analysts this week, saying, “We don’t have the urgency we had when COVID happened, because as you know, there is already a vaccine on the market.”

But there is only one company in the world producing a monkeypox vaccine. Denmark-based Bavarian Nordic, maker of Jynneos, is not expected to ship any more vaccines to the U.S. for more than a month.

But Bancel said Moderna will focus most of its attention on producing a new generation of COVID-19 vaccines that are being formulated to provide immunity against new omicron variants of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“This is not an airborne virus. I’m not aware of any scientists that believe it can get to a pandemic like COVID,” Bancel said.

By the way, in the same update this week, Moderna said it had begun clinical evaluations of a vaccine that contains both the seasonal flu vaccine plus a COVID-19 booster dose.

It is difficult to keep track of the names of all of these quickly emerging COVID-19 variants, but BA.4.6 is already overtaking the BA.5 that is dominant in most U.S. states.

BA.4.6 is especially concerning because it seems to have the ability to sidestep whatever immunity people develop after being infected by previous incarnations of the virus.

Fortune reports:

This week, the CDC included the BA.4 spinoff in its weekly tracking of COVID cases, with the agency’s chief data officer tweeting that the new subvariant had actually been “circulating for several weeks” in the U.S. The CDC designates strains as “variants of concern” if it displays greater transmissibility, reduced effectiveness of treatment, increased severity, or decreased neutralization by antibodies.

According to the CDC, BA.4.6 made up 4.1% of COVID cases for the week ending July 30. The new variant is more prevalent in the region comprised of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, where it makes up 10.7% of local cases. The mid-Atlantic region and the South are also seeing rates of BA.4.6 above the national average.

The new strain has also been detected in 43 other countries, according to, a community repository of COVID information.

The CDC’s variant data indicates BA.4.6. has been around for a few weeks.

Screenshot, CDC

Journalists, with each new variant there is an opportunity for you to help the public to understand that as long as people get COVID-19 infected, it gives the virus another “host” — another place to hide out and keep adapting to vaccines and immunities. That is why it is important to do everything you can to prevent getting infected. As long as we keep getting infected, the virus keeps hanging around.

A friend told me he was certain he had COVID-19 after attending the IRE journalism conference in June. Several other attendees reported testing positive. He said had all of the telltale COVID-19 symptoms including a burning sore throat, extreme fatigue and so on. But home COVID-19 test after test turned up negative. And that is becoming a common experience.

Experts are wondering if the BA.5 version of COVID-19 is doing an end-run around the home tests. If so, a lot of infected people may be walking around spreading the virus unknowingly.

CNBC reports that the newest variant may take longer to show up on tests than previous versions:

Cases of BA.5 and BA.4, are taking a little bit longer to appear positive with antigen testing for some folks, according to Esther Babady, chief of the clinical microbiology service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“As mutation occurs, it may somehow change the structure of these different proteins, which may result in a decrease in detection by the antigen testing,” says Babady. “It can also be that earlier in the infection by BA.4 and BA.5, you don’t produce enough of the SARS-CoV-2 protein.”

The companies that make approved antigen tests say they have not seen a problem with the tests detecting the most recent variants.

But at this time, infectious disease experts have not concluded that antigen testing cannot detect BA.5, and it is too early to make that claim, according to Mohamed Z. Satti, an infectious disease specialist and faculty member in the division of public health at Michigan State University.

Satti believes that people should still use at-home antigen tests if they’re experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to someone with Covid. “Until now, from all the data I’m seeing, the home testing is still working and sensitive enough to depend on,” Satti says. “People should still continue to do at-home testing.”

Cnet added this explanation:

“Positive results remain highly accurate for these tests, though there still can be false negatives,” Shaili Gandhi, vice president of pharmacy at SingleCare, said in an email. This is because it takes a higher amount of virus to test positive on a rapid test than the highly sensitive PCR or lab-based tests. Someone who’s fully vaccinated and boosted, for example, may have a very low viral load (smaller amount of virus) and that may mean they test negative even if they do have COVID-19. If that’s the case, you might need a lab-based PCR test before COVID-19 is confirmed.

So, as Cnet explains, the newest variants might not show up as well for people who do not have symptoms.

You’re most likely to test positive for COVID-19 when you have symptoms. Similarly, asymptomatic people or someone with mild symptoms might be more likely to have a false negative result than someone who has a lot of symptoms.

“Under these conditions, at-home tests are as effective at detecting omicron as with other variants,” Sandra Adams, a professor of biology and virologist at Montclair State University, told New Jersey Advance Media.

A record number of users are watching airplane tracking websites these days as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flew to Taiwan and others track celebrities and politicians across the globe. Sports fans try to figure out what a team’s airplane movement means to soccer league recruiting and trades.

The Guardian reported that so many people were watching the thousands of little airplane icons glide across the map that the website had problems maintaining the traffic:

Ian Petchenik, the head of communications for Flightradar24, said the site had seen “unprecedented sustained interest” over Pelosi’s flight, and at its peak, a record 708,000 people were simultaneously watching the little red icon representing the House speaker’s Boeing C-40C – callsign SPAR19 – as it looped around the Philippines to bypass Chinese bases in the South China Sea, then soared across the Luzon Strait, reportedly under the watchful cover of a trio of US aircraft carriers, and arced across Taiwan’s mountain ranges before touching down in Taipei.

While some flight tracking systems shield the identity of some aircraft including military and some private aircraft , ADS-B Exchange is uncensored. ADS-B explains its unfiltered network can be valuable to journalists:

DS-B Exchange does not participate in the filtering performed by most other flight tracking websites which do not share data on military or certain private aircraft. Because ADS-B Exchange does not use any FAA data there are no FAA BARR/LADD, military, or other “filters” preventing you from seeing the data you collected.  ADS-B Exchange simply does not accept payment or requests to remove aircraft from public tracking!

Is there some kind of pent up COVID-19 pandemic energy that is behind athletes picking off track and field world records at an astonishing pace this year? Last week Sydney McLaughlin shattered her own 400-meter hurdles world record. It is her fourth world record in two years.

The New York Times reported:

We are in what some have referred to as a golden age of people running fast, with records across the spectrum being broken, and more people than ever — from elite professionals down to high schoolers — running times that would have previously been unheard-of.

One small example: At last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, Rai Benjamin of the United States ran the 400 hurdles in 46.17 seconds, which was faster than any man had run before. Unfortunately for Benjamin, Karsten Warholm of Norway, in the lane next to him, had finished 0.23 of a second faster, setting a world record that still stands.

You can ascribe some of the record setting runs to great training, great nutrition — and then there are the shoes. A specific kind of shoe designed by Nike and then copied by others came to market just around the same time that so many track and field records began to fall one after another.

In 2017, Nike released its Zoom Vaporfly 4%, a road running shoe with a carbon-fiber plate in the midsole that acts as a catapult, more efficiently returning energy to its wearer. A New York Times analysis found that runners wearing these and similar shoes ran 4 to 5 percent faster than runners wearing an average shoe.

After a brief period of exclusivity, competing brands have all come out with their own version of a shoe with carbon-fiber plates amid a springy midsole, and now track spikes incorporate versions of this technology, too. Perhaps not coincidentally, there have been new world records in the men’s and women’s marathons since the introduction of these shoes, and many of the fastest times ever were set in the last few years.

Sporttechie points out that some of the most recent records were also while using technology called Lightwave, which helps runners set their pace.

We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

Al Tompkins is senior faculty at Poynter. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @atompkins.



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