President Biden tapped a top Federal Emergency Management Agency official to lead the national effort to combat the growing monkeypox outbreak.
Robert Fenton, who helped lead FEMA’s mass vaccination effort for COVID-19, was named White House monkeypox coordinator on Tuesday as the number of confirmed cases continued to soar.
Fenton will oversee “strategy and operations to combat the current monkeypox outbreak, including equitably increasing the availability of tests, vaccinations and treatments,” the White House said in a statement.
Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the director of the Centers for Disease Control’s HIV prevention division and a national expert on issues affecting the LGBTQ community, will serve as Fenton’s deputy.
Daskalakis previously helped lead New York City’s COVID-19 response.
Monkeypox is a virus that causes fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.
It is spread primarily through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact, including sex, unlike COVID, which is mostly spread through the air.
People getting sick so far in this outbreak have been primarily gay and bisexual men. But health officials emphasize that the virus can infect anyone and it could easily spread widely in the straight population.
The U.S. saw its first case of the monkeypox virus in the spring and now has over 5,800 confirmed infections a number that is almost certainly a dramatic undercount of the true spread.
Unlike the fight to contain COVID-19, mass vaccinations against monkeypox aren’t expected because the virus spreads through close contact.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical adviser, said he hoped the Fenton and Daskalakis would tighten the coordination between the various federal agencies involved in the monkeypox response.
“I personally think we’re dealing with a really serious issue here,” Fauci said. “There are a lot of unknowns.”