The number of monkeypox cases in Illinois jumped by more than 100 in just three days, and local health officials are stepping up efforts to raise awareness ahead of large outdoor festivals like Lollapalooza and Market Days.
Confirmed cases identified in Illinois stood at 344 on Monday, up from the 238 cases reported on Friday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Illinois accounts for about 10% of the 3,487 known cases in the U.S., and the state has the third highest total behind New York and California. The first probable case of monkeypox in Chicago was reported on June 2.
During a Tuesday afternoon webinar, local public health officials answered questions on what they know about the virus and outlined steps people can take to stay safe during crowded events.
“We’ll provide some opportunities to vaccinate during that time in sort of clinical spaces or venues adjacent to the facilities,” said Massimo Pacilli, a deputy commissioner at the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The virus can affect anyone, but has mainly been spreading through tight-knit social networks, Pacilli said. Most — but not all — Chicagoans with confirmed cases of the virus have been gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men.
Gov. JB Pritzker last week pushed the federal government to send more monkeypox vaccines, which so far have been limited. Some health clinics have reported more people lining up for vaccines than they can provide.
With a limited number of vaccines available, city officials are prioritizing people in high-risk groups. When more doses become available, other groups will become eligible for vaccinations.
Local public health officials said they’re working with “a bunch of different partners,” including those who were involved with the city’s COVID-19 response, such as the COVID Community Response Corp.
A lot of that work will involve posting people at the entrances and exits of upcoming major events to answer questions and direct attendees to resources.
Local health officials are particularly concerned about Market Days, an LGBTQ festival that attracts large crowds in the city’s Lakeview neighborhood.
“We’re working on finding individuals who are best equipped to provide this work at Market Days, come and be present at both entrances so they can answer questions, have conversations with folks, gather feedback and questions from folks, direct people to resources that are available at Market Days, as well as probably just like handing out water because in addition to making sure that individuals are aware of what’s going on with MPV, we want folks to be otherwise healthy as well and that means being hydrated,” said Patrick Stonehouse, director of public health operations at the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Health officials said the level of risk can be looked at as a continuum.
For example, outdoor events are less risky than crowded indoor spaces because of the opportunities for crowding and skin-to-skin contact. Officials also suggested wearing more clothing.
“We have a disease where a very readily available intervention is a layer of clothing,” Pacilli said. “I’m aware that not all settings are, you know, suited to this, but it’s certainly readily available.”
Another thing people can do to lower their risk is avoid sharing items like water bottles and cigarettes. And anyone showing symptoms of monkeypox should isolate themselves and contact their health care provider.
Earlier Tuesday, officials announced the first case of the virus at Cook County Jail. Officials said they took “swift action” to mitigate potential spread and contact tracing is underway. They believe the risk to the general population at the jail as well as staff is low based on how the disease is transmitted.
Some health experts worry that failing to contain the virus could result in it mutating and becoming a bigger threat.
A 2008 study warned that if monkeypox were to be introduced to an unvaccinated population, the virus could capitalize on the situation and become an epidemic, NPR reported.
The U.S. currently has the most monkeypox cases out of anywhere in the world, according to the Wall Street Journal.