Cases: Monkeypox is centered in the western portion of the county. Courtesy image

As the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to level off, local health officials have announced there are signs the concurrent monkeypox outbreak in Los Angeles County has also begun to lose steam.

“Although a month ago, we were seeing a doubling of monkeypox cases in as few as nine days, we are now seeing a leveling in the number of new cases per week and our doubling time has increased to 16 days,” LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) Disease Control Bureau Director Dr. Rita Singhal said during a press briefing on Thursday, Aug. 25. “This may be an early indication that transmission is beginning to slow. Similar trends are being noted in countries where the outbreak first began, and in other jurisdictions across the United States.”

When it comes to monkeypox vaccines, DPH said that with vaccine vials recently promised to Los Angeles, LA County would have the capability of fully vaccinating about 100,000 people with the two-dose series, accounting for 56% of the at-risk population countywide.

Singhal reported that there remained no local deaths attributed to monkeypox and that, over the course of the outbreak this summer, 47 people have been hospitalized due to the disease in LA County. Across the United States, there remained zero deaths attributed to a monkeypox infection.

In the past week, there were six additional cases reported in “congregate settings” such as homeless shelters, but zero new cases discovered in correctional facilities in LA County.

Demographics of known monkeypox infections in LA County continued to follow earlier trends: of 1,264 known cases countywide (excluding Long Beach and Pasadena, which each have their own health departments) since the outbreak began, 98% of patients have been male and 1% have been female (with another 1% of patients reporting “other”). The vast majority of those who tested positive reported they were gay or bisexual, Singhal said. 

“Eighty-two percent of cases reported their sexual orientation is gay or bisexual. When excluding cases where sexual orientation is unknown, this increases to 97%,” Singhal said.

The average age of a person infected with monkeypox was 35, Singhal said, and residents who were white and Latino make up the majority of cases. In total, 38% of those with confirmed monkeypox cases have been white, followed by 32% Latino, 12% Black and 4% Asian.

Singhal and fellow DPH spokesperson Dr. Muntu Davis said in response to a question that full, COVID-19-style isolation was not necessarily recommended for all monkeypox sufferers.

“There are certain circumstances when they are allowed to go out,” Singhal said, later adding, “We do know that it’s a fairly long disease course for monkeypox, so there may be people that need to be out of work for two or three weeks, if they do get it, and so in those scenarios, you know, we’re hoping that if there is a low risk setting where they can work from where they are not in contact with others and they’re not going to have a prolonged exposure with others that they may be able to work, but that is something that we’re looking at on a case-by-case basis.”

Davis added that because the most common way monkeypox spreads is through sexual contact, “the risk should be much lower [than COVID-19], especially as lesions can be covered. And as long as the person doesn’t have symptoms — respiratory symptoms — as well.”

The monkeypox update came during DPH’s weekly press briefing, which also included a COVID-19 update.

Davis reported what he called “ongoing declines” in COVID-19 spread, including decreases in four early alert signals: the percent of emergency department visits that are COVID related, the case rate in the lowest income areas, the number of new outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities, and the number of new worksite case clusters per week. In addition, the viral load detected in four major wastewater systems around the county also dropped across the board in the past month. Virus detected in wastewater systems is considered a useful indicator of real viral existence, since many people who contract coronavirus do not test or, those who test positive with home tests do not report them to DPH.

Davis and Singhal were not able to provide any details about the anticipated roll-out of new vaccines targeted to the COVID-19 Omicron subvariants.

“There are some, you know, some talk in media about it being potentially available as early as September, but we haven’t seen anything official just yet,” Davis said. “But we are planning for whenever it comes out to get it to all of our vaccination providers.”

emily@smdp.com