As an mpox cluster appears, county health officials in other states respond. Except in Maricopa.

The virus formerly known as monkeypox is likely to make a comeback this summer. But odds are, you didn't hear about that from anywhere around here... PLUS... a new "Eyes on the State"

A person receiving a vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control issued a warning for this upcoming Pride month and summer to be wary of a surge, after a cluster of mpox appeared in Chicago. (CHRISTIAN EMMER/CC BY-NC 4.0)

A new outbreak of mpox—formerly called Monkeypox—among gay and male-identifying people in Chicago this past month is raising alarms for infectious disease doctors around the nation, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that urgency is not being met at the local level, some say, since the county health department isn’t bringing the same urgency to the problem as other cities.

Recently, Chicago had an outbreak of 12 people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning this past weekend, saying that there were, “12 confirmed and one probable case of mpox… All cases were among symptomatic men. Nine (69%) of 13 cases were among men who were fully vaccinated for mpox.”

The CDC along with Chicago’s Public Health Department is investigating the source of transmission, the release said.

The CDC's Dr. Chris Braden said at an emergency meeting last week that officials are “very concerned that we are going to see more of what Chicago has experienced,” CBS reported.

That outbreak comes right before the city’s largest annual gay leather event, International Mr. Leather, which hosts tens of thousands of people who attend fetish-themed parties, including traveling Phoenicians. Kobalt, a gay bar near Phoenix’s Melrose district, is hosting a send-off for Arizonans who make the trek every year.

But in the wake of the outbreak, public health experts have called for early action. San Francisco health officials for the city government urged people to get mpox vaccinations before this year’s Pride season, which officially launches on June 1.

But in Arizona, the Maricopa County Health department has remained notably silent on the recent outbreak. The department has not released any statements on a possible surge, nor has it urged any kind of similar push for vaccinations, as other cities have done.

When reached by phone on Monday, the county health department spokesperson said she couldn’t comment on events happening outside of Arizona, but that there are weekly vaccine events held in the Melrose District at Off Chute Too, a local sex toy and clothing shop located on 7th Avenue and Indian School Road.

Vaccines are being offered at times below:

  • Fridays in May 2023
    4:30 - 9:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 20
    12 - 4 p.m.

People who want to get an mpox vaccine in Maricopa or Pima an also fill out a “vaccine interest form” on the county website here.

The department’s spokesperson said it was important that people who have only gotten one dose of the vaccine be sure to get their second shot.

But on the department’s Twitter, which also publicizes free vaccine clinics, its most recent vaccination push doesn’t appear to include monkeypox.

This isn’t the first time county officials in Arizona have been called out by queer community members for not meeting people where they are at, in regards to public health access.

During the mpox outbreak last year, queer people lined up outside the county health department to receive vaccinations, but many of those who showed up were there only out of coincidence or luck — not active engagement, according to people in attendance. Some said they only knew about it because someone else online or in their friend groups knew about it.

But in one instance, a non profit group leader (who wished to remain anonymous since they rely on public health grants and county assistance) said they were denied the ability to set up a free vaccine clinic to migrant queer people because they were “too close,” to the health department’s main office.

That’s wildly out of step in comparison to other public health agencies, such as in Chicago, or Berkeley Calif.,, where city and county health officials showed up at bars or sex clubs with free vaccines at the ready for people who visited the establishments. (Though, the business was criticized for offering quicker access to the vaccine if they paid.)

No such push appears to have been made at the two male spas here in Phoenix, according to conversations with customers who attended.

Those people’s experience, though, is in contrast to the department’s view of how they responded. In a survey conducted last year during the mpox outbreak, county officials said they were able to reach over 8,000 people, and get hundreds of eligible people also on pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP.

Since summer 2022, when the virus first appeared in the United States, more than 30,000 cases have been recorded in the U.S., and 42 have died.

Arizona has had 591 cases across the state, majority of them being in Maricopa County. There have been no deaths. The state, with an estimated population of a quarter million LGBT people, is ranked 12th among states states with the highest mpox transmission rates per 10,000 queer people in the country. When accounting for the general population, it ranks 13th.

LGBTQ+ population data from the Williams Institute at UCLA, compared to rate of infection of mpox cases, taken from CDC website.

But the biggest concern is for people living with HIV, who either have not been treated for the disease or who risk severe illness from poor treatment.

In a study conducted last year, people diagnosed with HIV and living without proper treatment had a higher chance of dying from mpox. Those who died from the disease also were predominantly Black gay men, who are also at one of the highest risks of transmitting and contracting the HIV virus next to White gay men and Black women.

“I think its pretty clear we have not interrupted endemic transmission of mpox,” said Dr. Brad Perkins, chief medical officer at Karius, a pharmaceutical testing company that has created a blood test to find mpox in carriers before showing symptoms.

The virus was never seen in the U.S. until 2022, Perkins said, but has now established itself as something everyone—but especially the queer community—will have to plan and prepare for.

“It continues to be and will likely continue to be a sporadically occurring disease in the U.S., and as a result, people will have to be watchful and take appropriate precautions,” Perkins said.

Perkins said even though the disease should not be viewed as a sexually transmitted disease exclusively, people should exercise the same caution as they would with other kinds of STDs, such as asking about testing history, making sure your sexual partner is fully vaccinated, while also making sure to recognize lesions on private areas that are consistent with the mpox virus.

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The Legislature

Now that the legislature has passed a budget, pressure is on to wrap up the long list of bills not passed yet.

They met today to push through as much pending legislation as possible, including every remaining anti-LGBTQ+ bill. Here’s a preview of what’s on the calendar:

  • SB 1001, which restricts teachers from using the pronouns and names their trans and non-binary students request, unless they out those students to their parents in order to obtain written permission.
  • SB 1026, which bans drag story hour events in public libraries, adding fuel to a moral panic with dangerous real-world consequences.
  • SB 1028 & SB 1030, two bills that started out as drag bans and that, even with amendments to remove the word “drag,” the sponsor continues to claim are about drag shows.
  • SB 1040, which bans trans kids in school from using bathrooms and other facilities that align with their gender.
  • SB 1323, which extends a problematic ban on sexually explicit materials in schools to threaten teachers with felonies for any violation of the ban.
  • SB 1503, which age-gates the internet, breaking longstanding privacy conventions.
  • SB 1694, which bans public entities from adopting inclusive policies or hosting DEI trainings.
  • SB 1698, another moral panic bill initially introduced as a drag ban with mandatory prison time.

Two School Board Stories

First is the fight in Washington Elementary School District over a contract with Arizona Christian University to provide student teachers. Earlier this year, the WESD governing board voted to not renew its contract after criticizing ACU’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies. The university sued, with representation from the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group and law firm Americans Defending Freedom. Facing a cost-prohibitive legal battle, the WESD board voted to settle, reinstating the contract with ACU and paying $25,000 in legal fees.

The second story is in Peoria Unified School District, where two anti-trans board members forced the issue of trans-inclusive polices and urged protesters to show up to force a vote. While their attempt to ban trans students from school bathrooms ultimately failed, they repeated their call the next meeting, even though the issue was not on the board’s agenda.

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