Gov. Pritzker declares monkeypox virus outbreak in Illinois a Public Health Emergency

CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday declared the monkeypox virus a public health emergency, and declared Illinois a disaster area regarding the disease.

The declaration applies statewide, and will allow the Illinois Department of Public Health to coordinate logistics so as to aid in the distribution vaccines, and in treatment and prevention efforts. The declaration will also help coordinate the state response with the federal government.

“MPV is a rare, but potentially serious disease that requires the full mobilization of all available public health resources to prevent the spread,” Gov. Pritzker said in a news release. “That’s why I am declaring a state of emergency to ensure smooth coordination between state agencies and all levels of government, thereby increasing our ability to prevent and treat the disease quickly. We have seen this virus disproportionately impact the LGBTQ+ community in its initial spread. Here in Illinois we will ensure our LGBTQ+ community has the resources they need to stay safe while ensuring members are not stigmatized as they access critical health care.”

The proclamation takes effect immediately and will remain in place for 30 days. The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on July 23.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady released a statement endorsing the state Public Health Emergency declaration, and saying an additional declaration for the city is not necessary:

“This emergency declaration brings a necessary, increased focus to the Monkeypox (MPV) outbreak we’re seeing here in Chicago, across our state, and around the country. Since the beginning of this outbreak, the Chicago Department of Public Health has been working diligently with clinical and community partners to raise awareness and vaccinate residents at increased risk and will continue to do so. Ultimately, however, we need more support from the federal level to fully address the threat MPV presents to our city. It is our hope that this declaration joins a chorus of others across the nation and encourages the rapid increase and distribution of vaccines. This declaration will allow the state to use emergency procurement powers and to directly involve other state agencies, like Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), in the response statewide. Chicago does not need a separate emergency declaration as we are covered by the state one, and in addition, we already have a local emergency procurement process; a strong local distribution network; and a diverse group of clinical and community partners working to raise awareness and vaccinate Chicagoans at increased risk.”

Monkeypox: What we know so far

Since July 23, the number of monkeypox cases in the city of Chicago alone almost tripled in less than one week. Cases are also skyrocketing statewide.

As of Monday, a total of 520 cases of monkeypox have been reported in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Health. This total includes all probable and confirmed cases.

The City of Chicago reported a total of 330 cases as of July 28. 

“I’m hoping it’ll help with, you know, a) funding, and b) really, the big thing is going to be getting vaccines out,” said Dr. Karen Krueger.

Krueger is an infectious disease specialist at Northwestern Medicine. She backs the governor’s move, and says direct, prolonged contact with an infected person is how monkeypox is spreading.

“Thus far, I haven’t really seen community transmission like that,” Krueger said. “It’s really been people who have had a very close contact with somebody else.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said Monkeypox can spread through close, personal and often skin-to-skin contact. Officials have noted the virus is spreading primarily among men with same-sex partners.  

Kissing, hugging, and sexual contact are the most common ways it spreads. 

“It can also be spread is left on bed sheets, or clothing, or eating utensils – things like that – and then those things are shared with another individual,” Krueger said. 

She said catching monkeypox in the air – such as by being in big crowds – is less likely, but possible.

Monkeypox starts with flulike symptoms and progresses to an outbreak of lesions – usually within a few days. A full list of symptoms can be found here.

Patients have described extremely painful sores all over their bodies.  

CDC officials said symptoms usually start “within three weeks of exposure to the virus.” The illness typically lasts two to four weeks. 

Cases of monkeypox often resolve after a few weeks without additional treatment. Some reported cases have been more severe and have led to hospitalizations. 

“The majority of people are able to manage their symptoms at home and kind of just ride through the course,” Krueger said.

That is some good news. But the bad news is those who get the virus are contagious for two to four weeks and should isolate.

“Typically, we’re telling them for a minimum of 21 days, to isolate; so really to only be leaving their houses for emergent purposes, or to go to doctor’s visits,” Krueger said.

The smallpox vaccine is used for monkeypox, but the supply is strictly limited right now. The state of emergency declaration could help put Illinois near the top of the vaccine distribution list.

Kozlov also asked Dr. Krueger if we would need another shutdown to slow the virus’s spread. She said she does not see that happening.

Dana Kozlov


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Dana Kozlov is an Emmy Award-winning political investigative reporter for CBS2 Chicago. Prior to joining the station in 2003, she worked at WGN, CNN Chicago and WEEK-TV in Peoria, where she began her journalism career in 1992.

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