WASHINGTON — President Biden on Tuesday appointed an experienced emergency response officer to assist the U.S. government in the monkeypox outbreak as some of the country’s largest states declare a state of emergency.
The official, Robert Fenton, a Federal Emergency Management Agency regional administrator and twice its acting chief, will serve as the White House monkeypox coordinator. Next to him will be Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, director of the HIV prevention division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be his deputy.
An early morning statement from the White House said the two men would be tasked with overseeing efforts “to fight the current monkeypox outbreak, including increasing the availability of tests, vaccinations and treatments equitably.”
Biden had come under pressure to name someone with presidential support to lead the response as cases continue to spread, particularly in the LGBTQ community.
The appointments came a day after California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to deal with the monkeypox outbreak there. New York and Illinois have made similar statements, as have the mayors of New York City and San Francisco.
The CDC has recorded nearly 6,000 cases of monkey pox since May, nearly half of them in those three major states. No deaths have been reported so far – monkeypox is rarely fatal – but the virus can cause severe pain. It is mainly spread 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 US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra is considering it.
The White House said 737,000 more vaccines were shipped Monday, bringing the total number of divided doses to 1.1 million.
“It’s very important because we’re trying to have a really aggressive approach to tackling monkey pox,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday. She added that 80,000 tests were being conducted per week. “That’s another important way to make sure people get tested so they know whether they have monkeypox or not,” she noted.
The two officials installed by Mr. Biden on Tuesday morning have extensive experience. Mr. Fenton, who oversees the American West for FEMA, has led responses to natural disasters, disease outbreaks and humanitarian operations and served as the agency’s acting administrator twice.
dr. Known as a national expert on health issues affecting the LBGTQ community, Daskalakis has previously led infectious disease management for New York City, including the response to Covid-19.
“Bob Fenton and Dr. Daskalakis are proven, effective leaders who will lead an entire government effort to implement President Biden’s comprehensive monkey pox strategy with the urgency that warrants this outbreak,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, said in the White House statement.