This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner / CDC via AP, File)

This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner / CDC via AP, File)

Snohomish Health District hiring full-time monkeypox task force

The county is gearing up for more cases. The outbreak will be evaluated weekly to decide if a four-person team is merited.

EVERETT — Confirmed monkeypox cases in Snohomish County are still in single digits, but public health officials aren’t expecting things to stay that way.

The Snohomish Health District will hire more staff — a nurse, a medical assistant and two disease intervention specialists — specifically to respond to monkeypox, as authorized by the district’s board of health at a special meeting Tuesday.

At the meeting, Prevention Services Director Katie Curtis cited projections from the state Department of Health showing the potential for cases in Washington to continue to double roughly every week. Hiring a response team now will help the county “deal with the inevitable,” she said.

The Snohomish Health District confirmed a seventh case of monkeypox Tuesday, said Kari Bray, a spokesperson for the Snohomish Health District. Gay and bisexual men have been at highest risk in the current outbreak. The virus is often spread through intimate contact.

One of the people diagnosed in Snohomish County is a woman “without risk factors associated with this outbreak,” and another is not a resident of the county, Bray said.

“We are trying to avoid a repeat of 2020,” Curtis said. In January 2020, the first COVID-19 case in the nation was confirmed in Everett. By June of that year, nearly 3,500 cases had been confirmed in the county.

The new registered nurse will provide monkeypox testing and vaccination to those who would otherwise be unable to access these services. The medical assistant will support these efforts, along with two disease intervention specialists responsible for contact tracing and investigating cases.

The nurse would come at an estimated cost of $90 per hour through a temporary staffing agency, with a weekly assessment of whether the outbreak merits four full-time staffers, according to the Snohomish Health District. The medical assistant would earn from $20 to $27 per hour, and the intervention specialists would have a salary of $87,859 per position.

Curtis said the hiring process will begin immediately. The health district will fund the team.

People at high risk can now get vaccinated for monkeypox in Snohomish County through their health care provider. At this point, vaccination against monkeypox is not recommended for the general public.

Snohomish County has received 760 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine, which Bray called “an amount much smaller than demand and need.” No more doses had been allocated to the county as of Wednesday. Local and state health jurisdictions rely on the federal government for vaccines, but national supply has failed to meet demand.

With limited doses, the Snohomish Health District is prioritizing getting the first dose of the vaccine to people at high risk, “with the expectation that we will deliver the second dose as close to the 28 day mark as possible.” Many local health agencies are using this approach to try to protect more people against the virus.

This week, the Snohomish Health District added a monkeypox page to its website with information about symptoms and who is eligible for a vaccine in Snohomish County.

Natalie Kahn: 425-339-3430; natalie.kahn@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @nataliefkahn.

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