Tallahassee, Fla. — Today, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, an independently-elected member of the Florida Cabinet, wrote to Governor Ron DeSantis calling on him to declare a state of emergency in response to the rapid increase of monkeypox cases throughout the state. The letter follows the Commissioner’s request for additional vaccines from the federal government last week and a day after she held an informational conversation with South Florida community leaders to raise awareness about monkeypox to help prevent further spread. Currently, Florida ranks fourth in total cases nationwide behind California, New York, and Illinois – all three of which have declared monkeypox states of emergency. In addition, Commissioner Fried is calling on the Governor to enact a coordinated statewide response effort, including standing up additional testing, treatment, and vaccine sites and launching a public awareness campaign to better inform Floridians on the symptoms, causes, prevention measures, and treatments for monkeypox.
The letter reads in part: “While we are likely to see monkeypox cases continue to increase over the coming weeks, the state can – and must – take immediate action to limit the impact of this outbreak by declaring a state of emergency. Putting in place a strong, statewide emergency response that coordinates and leverages our county health departments will help Floridians access vaccines and other resources to protect themselves and others from the spread of monkeypox. I will continue to advocate for additional federal resources for Florida as needed and my department stands ready to provide assistance in disseminating critical public health and awareness information from state and federal agency partners throughout this global health emergency.”
August 2, 2022
I am writing today concerning the urgent need to expand efforts to combat the rising number of monkeypox cases across the state, particularly in South Florida. As you know, Florida currently ranks fourth in total cases nationwide, with the majority of cases confirmed in the month of July. Last week, I requested additional vaccines and testing resources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to supplement the 36,000 vaccines delivered to the state. On Monday, I also held an informational conversation with South Florida community leaders, including a healthcare provider, to help educate individuals as to what monkeypox is, what the symptoms are, and what prevention and treatment resources are available. This important discussion highlighted the need for a robust, coordinated state-level response along with educational outreach to limit the spread of monkeypox and protect Floridians from the virus. To achieve this goal, I am asking you to join California, New York, and Illinois – the only states with higher case counts than Florida – in declaring a state of emergency to address the threat of monkeypox.
The receipt of additional federal resources to test for and inoculate against monkeypox will be critical in containing the outbreak. It is essential for the state, including the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) and the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), to have a statewide plan in place to utilize additional resources as they are provided by the federal government as well as standing up additional sites for providers to administer current supplies of tests and vaccinations. While the majority of Florida cases have been reported in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the virus continues to spread outside of South Florida, with monkeypox cases now reported in 22 Florida counties. As such, public health officials at the county level across the state must be prepared to respond as new cases are identified and work with neighboring counties to contain the outbreak as part of a coordinated statewide response effort. As the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, concerns continue to be shared with my Department regarding a lack of accessibility when it comes to monkeypox testing, treatment, and vaccinations – with even some frontline physicians reporting difficulty accessing the vaccine personally. As the supply of vaccines is expected to increase, Florida must be ready to expand distribution sites efficiently and expeditiously, particularly among the most affected areas, including underserved and rural communities that may have additional accessibility barriers. Equally as important, Floridians must be able to easily find information related to site locations, hours of operation, and other state resources, and I have been concerned to hear reports of difficulties some are experiencing with accessing assistance even through FDOH’s 24/7 hotline. Floridians must have immediate access to informational resources and assistance in the face of this global health emergency.
While we await additional federal resources, one of the most important steps we can take at the state level is raising public awareness about monkeypox. As you may know, monkeypox is primarily spread through skin-to-skin contact with symptomatic individuals, meaning transmission can be greatly reduced through simple. Floridians need to know key facts such as when should they get tested, at what point they are contagious, and how long they need to quarantine if infected, but unfortunately, there appears to be a severe public knowledge gap when it comes to monkeypox. Educational outreach including public service announcements, community town halls and conversations like what I hosted Monday, targeted community outreach, or even something as simple as a social media campaign could provide critical information that may help limit further spread of the virus and prevent unnecessary suffering. If enacted as part of a statewide response under an emergency declaration, educational outreach could also connect Floridians directly with local resources from their county health departments.
While we are likely to see monkeypox cases continue to increase over the coming weeks, the state can – and must – take immediate action to limit the impact of this outbreak by declaring a state of emergency. Putting in place a strong, statewide emergency response that coordinates and leverages our county health departments will help Floridians access vaccines and other resources to protect themselves and others from the spread of monkeypox. I will continue to advocate for additional federal resources for Florida as needed and my department stands ready to provide assistance in disseminating critical public health and awareness information from state and federal agency partners throughout this global health emergency.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Nicole “Nikki” Fried
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services
cc: Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo, Florida Surgeon General
Director Kevin Guthrie, Florida Division of Emergency Management