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As cases rise, communities are trying to stay ahead of monkeypox outbreak

community monkeypox handling
Posted at 11:38 AM, Jul 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 11:38:32-04

PROVINCETOWN, Mass.  — It had all the makings of a picturesque perfect summer, one not defined completely by a pandemic. But Harrison Fish, a bartender who spends his summers on Cape Cod, has learned in the last few years just how quickly that can change.

"We know all too well how a pandemic can affect an entire community," Fish said.

Fish is a bartender in Provincetown, Massachusetts. a small seaside town and summer safe haven for the LGBTQ community. This place at the tip of Cape Cod was hit hard by COVID and is now being forced to deal with a new problem: monkeypox.

"Because of the way tourism travelers come here we are a small community that spans the entire world, if it's affecting the queer community anywhere it ends up here pretty quickly," he added.

Cases here have been minimal, partly because this community is using lessons learned from COVID-19 and quickly pivoting to get residents vaccinated. Provincetown became a case study for health officials last summer as they discovered the delta variant could infect fully vaccinated individuals.

"This is not our community's first pandemic," said Julian Cyr, a state senator who represents Cape Cod.

Cyr has been working around the clock with federal and state officials to secure as many monkeypox vaccines as possible.

"This community, we've had a playbook on how you respond," he added.

Like so many American communities who rely on tourism to survive, Provincetown learned during COVID how critical it is to get ahead of a public health outbreak. That, in the case of monkeypox, could take someone out of the seasonal workforce for three weeks or more.

"If you're a hospitality worker, you're out of work for three weeks in a 10-week season. That can be 30-40% of your income," Cyr noted.

But it's not just COVID-19. Health officials here are using the AIDS/HIV epidemic of the 1980s as a roadmap on how to respond to this current outbreak.

Dan Gates oversees the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod. They have played an instrumental role in public outreach, to get the vaccine rolled out quickly.

"I wouldn't have anticipated how impactful our work on HIV and AIDS would be on the next pandemic," he noted. "It's the nuance of the response, it's the nuance of the education."

The rollout of the vaccine nationwide though has been slow and cases are rising, prompting the World Health Organization to declare monkeypox a global health emergency. Many who have been infected are frustrated with the US government's response, including Matt Ford, an actor turned activist in New York City.

The 30-year-old first started experiencing intense flu-like symptoms back in June. Those symptoms were soon accompanied by painful lesions that appears over most of his body. Ford was stuck in quarantine for the better part of three weeks until all of his lesions healed.

"It was kind of like climbing a mountain and you keep thinking you're going to the summit and then there's another ledge you have to get over," he said.

Ford is now pushing publicly for better access to the monkeypox vaccine. He's become passionate about preventing others from experiencing the pain he felt that could've been prevented if he'd had the vaccine.

"I think a lot of people are going to get it who wouldn't necessarily have to," he added.

Back in Provincetown, they are continuing to welcome visitors from across the globe while being vigilant about testing and vaccine access. Hospitality workers like Harrison Fish know full well that with each arriving ferry comes the potential for this latest outbreak to spread.

"We understand that taking our personal health seriously protects our entire health and livelihood," he said.