Federal health officials announced Thursday that monkeypox cases in the U.S. have declined nearly 50% overall since the beginning of August, leading to a shift in the government's virus response to focus on addressing racial disparities in infections and vaccine uptake.
What happened: At a White House briefing Thursday, officials said that they are "cautiously optimistic" about the decrease in cases but shared plans to address equity concerns around efforts to address the virus, which has largely spread among men who have sex with men.
By the numbers: While non-Hispanic Black men represented 38% of new cases in the past week, they make up only 12% of those who've received a first dose of the monkeypox vaccine, according to Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky. Hispanic men make up 25% of cases in the past week and only represent 21% of first vaccine doses.
What's next: Officials say they aren't letting their guard down despite the promising numbers, vowing to keep utilizing a "multi-layered" approach focusing on testing, vaccine availability and health education to keep numbers low and address the needs of those who are most at-risk for the virus.
More on monkeypox:
'Here we go again': Monkeypox crisis unnerves AIDS activists. Have lessons been learned?
Latest news: First known monkeypox death in US confirmed by LA County health officials
Monkeypox among the homeless community: Why experts are worried and what cities are doing.
The state of monkeypox in the U.S.
The growth of new monkeypox cases has begun to decline both in the United States and abroad, according to health officials. Total global cases of monkeypox have reached 59,600, and there have been nearly 23,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. in every state, D.C. and Puerto Rico, Walensky said Thursday.
Despite a nationwide decline, some jurisdictions are still seeing an increase in monkeypox cases, according to Walensky, and the government must maintain its vigilance in addressing the virus to keep cases from increasing.
"We approach this news with cautious optimism," Walensky said at the briefing. "We must continue to aggressively respond with our entire toolkit."
Officials said that while there are rare cases among children, they are largely cases that are part of "terminal chains," meaning they do not spread to other individuals or spillover into the larger population.
Earlier this week, health officials in California announced what is believed to be the first known death from monkeypox in the United States from a patient who was severely immunocompromised and had been hospitalized.
Addressing racial disparities
In August, the White House announced an equity intervention pilot program aimed at ensuring vaccines reach high-risk individuals facing barriers to access, allocating 10,000 vials of vaccine toward smaller-scale equity interventions, including LGBTQ events such as Southern Decadence in New Orleans and Atlanta Black Pride.
Demetre Daskalaki, deputy coordinator of the White House National Monkeypox Response team, said 11,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered under the program.
Daskalaskis also announced a second equity intervention pilot at Thursday's briefing, focused on hyperlocal strategies and smaller-scale projects.
Walensky said the federal government will continue to work to assure that health education, vaccinations, testing and treatment are "equally accessible to all populations," particularly those at highest risk for monkeypox.
"Now we really have the hard part of the job to do," Daskalaskis said. "Our work is far from over. Equity must remain a cornerstone of our response."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Monkeypox cases declining in the US, globally: What you should know