A digitally-colorized electron microscopic (EM) image depicts a monkeypox virion. (CDC)

MONTEREY COUNTY — As Monterey County schools reopen this week, the ongoing monkeypox outbreak has caused some concerns for the overall health and safety of students heading back to the classroom.

In a public letter dated Aug. 3, Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Deneen Guss reassured students, families and community members that the Monterey County Office of Education is taking all the necessary precautions.

“I would like to reassure the school community at large that although the seemingly sudden emergence of monkeypox can be alarming, monkeypox is not a new virus and is much less contagious than Covid-19,” Guss said. “Vaccinations and treatments already exist to combat the monkeypox epidemic, and while symptoms can be uncomfortable, it is rarely fatal.”

Currently, only 0.2% of children under age 18 in California are affected by the monkeypox epidemic, and only four cases have been reported in Monterey County as of Aug. 4.

“Should the need arise, Monterey County Office of Education will provide continuous updates and assistance to the school community; however, the current risk of getting monkeypox in the general public is very low,” Guss said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a State of Emergency on Aug. 1 in response to the monkeypox outbreak, which has been under watch by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since May. Newsom declared the emergency as a preventative measure in order to support the work underway by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and other organizations to seek additional vaccinations and lead educational efforts on obtaining vaccines and treatment.

As of Aug. 4, there have been 1,310 cases of probable or confirmed monkeypox reported in the state.

“California is working urgently across all levels of government to slow the spread of monkeypox, leveraging our robust testing, contact tracing and community partnerships strengthened during the pandemic to ensure that those most at risk are our focus for vaccines, treatment and outreach,” Newsom said. “We’ll continue to work with the federal government to secure more vaccines, raise awareness about reducing risk, and stand with the LGBTQ community fighting stigmatization.”

Following Newsom’s proclamation, a national public health emergency was declared Aug. 4 due to the outbreak.

“We appreciate the continued partnership and urgent action from the federal government in our ongoing efforts to slow the spread of monkeypox across California and the nation,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomбs J. Aragуn in a statement. “… Monkeypox can affect anyone; it spreads primarily by skin-to-skin contact, as well as from sharing items like clothing, bedding and towels.”

Monkeypox is generally a mild illness with common symptoms being fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches. Patients can develop a rash and lesions that often begin on the face before spreading to the rest of the body. Symptoms usually appear one to two weeks after infection, and the illness typically lasts two to four weeks.

In the current outbreak, most of the spread has come from coming into contact with infected people’s lesions or bodily fluids, making it less transmissible than other viruses, such as Covid-19.

According to the CDC, anyone who thinks they have monkeypox or have had close personal contact with someone who has monkeypox should visit a healthcare provider to help them decide if they need to be tested for the disease.

Guss said Monterey County’s Safe Schools for All Program Coordinator Nicholas Zafiratos will “continue to provide information on best practices related to overall student health and safety,” as both staff and students return to campuses for another school year.

“As always, we encourage parents to monitor the health of their children as they head back to school,” Guss said. “Any symptoms consistent with monkeypox, such as characteristic rashes or lesions, should be assessed by a healthcare provider.”

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Ryan Cronk is the managing editor for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for South Monterey County and the surrounding communities.


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