The Wren building at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)
WASHINGTON — The White House held a virtual meeting Thursday with more than 1,000 college and university officials to help them prepare for a school year when monkeypox cases are expected to crop up on campus.
The Biden administration’s monkeypox and COVID-19 response teams as well as representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed “best practices and measures for colleges and universities to take to curb the spread of” monkeypox as well as coronavirus.
“Federal officials offered practical guidance on how to keep higher education institutions safe this fall, including strategies colleges can use to identify and stop the spread of monkeypox, and answered questions on how to respond to incidents of monkeypox and communicate clearly to students on vaccines, testing, and treatments,” the White House said in a statement announcing the meeting.
Large public colleges and universities contacted by States Newsroom last week didn’t have significant plans in place for how they’d treat students diagnosed with monkeypox.
There was little clarity on how they’d help students in on-campus housing isolate, if professors would be sent guidance about providing remote learning for students who test positive, or what those sharing a dorm room or other close housing should do if a roommate is diagnosed.
At Thursday’s meeting, federal officials, none of whom were named by the White House, called on college and university administrators to also encourage their campus communities to keep updated on COVID-19 vaccinations.
New CDC website
The meeting with higher education officials, whom the White House declined to name in its readout, came on the same day the CDC announced a new website to provide information about monkeypox specifically for college students.
The website notes that “vaccination is an important tool in preventing the spread of monkeypox. But given the current limited supply of vaccine, consider temporarily changing some behaviors that may increase your risk of being exposed.”
The federal government’s distribution of the JYNNEOS vaccine, which is approved to treat monkeypox and its cousin smallpox, has been somewhat slow and lacking in the number of vaccines public health officials would like to get the outbreak under control.
Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the committee that oversees public health, sent a letter to Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this week asking about the pace of vaccine distribution.
“The administration must do more to address existing, unacceptable shortages in vaccine supply, institute comprehensive distribution and communication strategies, and develop long-term procurement plans,” Murray wrote.
Murray noted the slow procurement has “resulted in an alarming shortage of the supply of the JYNNEOS vaccine, which risks undermining the ability of the United States to address the monkeypox outbreak.”
Public health emergency
Monkeypox began spreading throughout the United States this year after a Massachusetts man was diagnosed on May 17.
The virus, which is transmitted by close, intimate contact, has since risen to more than 16,600 people in every state. The Biden administration declared it a public health emergency earlier this month.
Monkeypox cases in the United States this year are characterized by a rash or lesions in nearly 99% of people diagnosed, according to data from the CDC. A majority of people have also experienced tiredness, fever, chills, headache, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle aches and itching.
While anyone can contract monkeypox, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing last week that about 98% of cases are currently in men and that “among cases with known recent sexual history and gender, 93% of cases were among men who reported recent sexual contact with other men.”
Monkeypox can take between two and four weeks to resolve, a timeline that could cause significant disruptions to any student who is diagnosed and must isolate until all of their lesions disappear and are replaced with a new layer of skin.
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