WASHINGTON — President Biden has appointed a veteran emergency response official to manage the U.S. government’s handling of the monkeypox outbreak as some of the nation’s largest states declare states of emergency.
The official, Robert Fenton, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regional administrator and two-time deputy chief, will serve as the White House’s smallpox coordinator. With him, his deputy will be Dr. Dimitris Daskalakis, director of the HIV Prevention Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An early morning statement issued by the White House said the two men will be tasked with overseeing the effort “to combat the current monkeypox epidemic, including equitably increasing the availability of tests, vaccinations and treatments.”
Mr. Biden had been under pressure to name someone with presidential backing to lead the response as cases continue to spread, particularly in the LGBTQ community.
The appointments came a day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to help deal with a monkeypox outbreak there. New York and Illinois have made similar statements, as have the mayors of New York and San Francisco.
The CDC has recorded nearly 6,000 monkeypox cases since May, with nearly half in these three major states. No deaths have been reported so far – monkeypox is rarely fatal – but the virus can lead to severe pain. It is mainly transmitted through prolonged physical contact.
The Biden administration has not declared a state of emergency, although the World Health Organization did so late last month, but Xavier Becerra, the US secretary of health and human services, is considering it.
The White House said 737,000 more vaccines were shipped Monday, bringing the total number of doses distributed to 1.1 million.
“It’s very important as we try to have a really aggressive approach to dealing with monkeypox,” Karine Jean-Pierre, a White House press secretary, told reporters Monday. He added that 80,000 tests were being carried out per week. “This is another important, important way to make sure people are getting tested so they know if they have monkeypox or not,” he noted.
The two officials Mr. Biden installed on Tuesday morning have a lot of experience. Mr. Fenton, who oversees the American West for FEMA, has managed responses to natural disasters, disease outbreaks and humanitarian operations and served twice as the agency’s deputy administrator.
Dr. Daskalakis is known as a national expert on health issues affecting the LBGTQ community, having previously led infectious disease management for New York City, including its response to Covid-19.
“Bob Fenton and Dr. Daskalakis are proven, effective leaders who will lead a whole-of-government effort to implement President Biden’s comprehensive smallpox response strategy with the urgency this outbreak demands,” said Dr. stated in the White House announcement.