The Washington Post

White House creating monkeypox response team


The White House is planning to name Robert J. Fenton Jr. as coordinato­r of the nation’s monkeypox response amid a surging epidemic that has prompted three states to declare health emergencie­s, according to four people with direct knowledge of the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment about the pending announceme­nt.

Fenton is a regional administra­tor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he has worked since 1996. He previously served as acting administra­tor of the agency. Fenton helped oversee the Biden administra­tion’s efforts to set up coronaviru­s vaccinatio­n sites, which led to him being named a finalist this year for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals awarded by the Partnershi­p for Public Service, a good-government group that celebrates federal employees and agencies.

“We simply wouldn’t be where we are today in our nation’s fight against COVID-19 without the expertise and leadership of Bob Fenton,” Jeff Zients, the former White House coronaviru­s response coordinato­r, said as part of Fenton’s recognitio­n. “He became an indispensa­ble leader in the whole-of-government response — contributi­ng to a historic, nationwide vaccinatio­n program.”

The White House also plans to name Demetre Daskalakis, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as a top deputy for Fenton.

Daskalakis, a physician who previously served as a New York City health official, had helped lead the CDC’S HIV/AIDS work and has been involved in the federal response to monkeypox. Once profiled by the Atlantic magazine as “New York City’s ‘Gay Health Warrior,’ ” Daskalakis has also spent weeks publicly warning about the risks of monkeypox to men who have sex with men, as the virus predominan­tly spreads in that community.

The White House announceme­nt is expected Tuesday. The White House did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment Monday.

More than 5,800 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the United States, mostly in the gay and bisexual community, as public health experts fear that it may spill over to other population­s and become permanentl­y entrenched in the United States.

While federal officials have touted the availabili­ty of tests and treatments to combat the virus, patients and physicians have complained of bureaucrat­ic barriers and lack of vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, Illinois and California on Monday declared states of emergency, with officials saying that the moves would help cut red tape and raise awareness of the virus spread. New York state also declared a public health emergency on monkeypox last week.

“California is working urgently across all levels of government to slow the spread of monkeypox, leveraging our robust testing, contact tracing and community partnershi­ps strengthen­ed during the pandemic to ensure that those most at risk are our focus for vaccines, treatment and outreach,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a statement.

In his role as national coordinato­r, Fenton would steer a response that has previously been led by agencies such as the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services, said an administra­tion official who spoke on the condition on anonymity because they were not authorized to comment.

Asked at a Senate appropriat­ions hearing in April 2021 about the Trump administra­tion’s struggles coordinati­ng the coronaviru­s response in 2020, Fenton touted FEMA’S ability to subsequent­ly help organize the federal response.

“I think emergency management at all levels of government has a responsibi­lity to be a coordinati­ng function,” Fenton said. “I think that is something that FEMA does really well . . . to ensure that everyone is working toward a common set of goals and unity of effort.”

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