Health officials are scrambling to speed up testing for monkeypox

Monkeypox cases are surging in cities across the US, including New York – but experts say local health departments are unable to cope with the huge demand for testing.

The Biden administration announced this week that tests for the virus would be sent to commercial labs to expand testing and expedite diagnoses, as confirmed cases hit 152 nationwide on Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

But those labs won’t be operational for monkeypox testing until July — leaving 67 labs in 48 states with a range of just 8,000 tests a week statewide.

“What I’ve heard from a number of people who work on gay health issues who have friends and friends of friends who have shared multiple stories of people who have tried to get tested but have not been able to get tested,” said the epidemiologist Dr. Jay Varma told the Post.

Varma, who has helped orchestrate the Big Apple’s COVID mitigation and vaccine adoption strategies, has taken to Twitter with his frustration.

“Incredible that @CDCgov repeat the same thing #COVID-19 mistake with #monkeypox: 1/duly warned by events in Europe, 2/transmission still underestimated, 3/gate-keep testing so rare,” he wrote. “The first rule of outbreak control is: overreact first…or fall behind and don’t catch up.”

There are currently only 67 labs nationwide that can test for monkeypox.
There are currently only 67 labs nationwide that can test for monkeypox.
REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Dean Blumberg, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis, said he believes the response to monkeypox has been better than that of COVID-19, but more testing is needed so contact tracing can be done and the spread limited .

“Once you do that contact tracing and you find people who are at risk, you can have a very low testing threshold and make sure people can be educated in a way that they can limit transmission to others,” Blumberg told The Post.

In New York City, the Department of Health and Mental Health can only conduct 20 tests a day, officials said. Authorities have uncovered 30 probable cases as of Thursday, including more than a dozen in the past two weeks, but officials can’t say how many New Yorkers are unable to get the tests needed for a confirmed diagnosis.

Large urban centers reported just a handful of sites to conduct testing, just one in Philadelphia, which has two confirmed cases, and three in Chicago, which has 23 cases, including 19 in the past two weeks, local officials said.

An example of a monkeypox rash in an infected person.
An example of a monkeypox rash in an infected person.
Photo by HANDOUT/UK Health Security Agency/AFP via Getty Images

Monkeypox can infect anyone, but a number of cases in the US and Europe have been found in gay men, leading to health officials urging raising awareness in the community, even though testing is rare and only available to people who meet strict criteria such as lesions, even had the opportunity to be tested.

A New Yorker who spoke to The Post on condition of anonymity said he spent a full week getting tested for the nascent virus – and then had to wait three days to hear he had tested positive .

“The providers were good but they were limited by what was written in the [CDC] guidelines,” the patient told the Post. “The guidelines for testing are very restrictive. At some point, the possibility of cancer was readily considered. I was like, well, I don’t think cancer shows up in multiple sites overnight.”

At first he had no lesions, but he claimed doctors at one of the city’s major university emergency rooms still declined to give him a test when the painful lesions emerged on Saturday. He was finally tested on Monday, with the results not arriving until Thursday, he said.

A Health Department spokesman denied that anyone showing lesions or a rash had been turned away from a test, but could not say how many people who applied for a test had been denied. Several city health departments declined to release test data and referred questions about capacity to the CDC.

The New York City Department of Health unexpectedly made the JYNNEOS vaccine available to adult men who had sex with other men or “multiple anonymous sex partners” in the past two weeks. But the appointment booking website showed no available slots and after word of mouth spread about the vaccine, dozens lined up at the only location in Chelsea that offered the vaccine.

The wait reached two hours, according to social media posts, and officers had to turn away those without an appointment.

According to a statement from the health department on Thursday, no appointments were available until Monday.

“The demand we’re seeing today is further evidence of how proactive the LGBTQ+ community – and all New Yorkers – are when it comes to their health and seeking medical care,” the statement said.

“We hope to be able to release more dates soon. We are in discussions with the CDC to get more doses and are looking at ways to increase our capacity across the city.”

With postal wires Health officials are scrambling to speed up testing for monkeypox


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