You may have seen some recent news reports about monkeypox, a disease that was discovered in 1958 and comes from the same family of viruses as the virus that causes smallpox. Currently, the United States is experiencing a monkeypox outbreak. Contrary to some media reports and social media posts, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease, although it can be spread during sexual activity. According to the most recent guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”), monkeypox can be transmitted through physical contact with monkeypox rashes or sores (which can occur during sexual activity or other close physical contact), but it can also be transmitted by “touching objects, fabrics, and surfaces used by someone with monkeypox,” and by contact with “respiratory secretions” of someone with monkeypox.
The CDC has issued guidance to reduce risk of transmission in “congregate living settings.” Consistent with the CDC’s recommendations, fraternal organizations, particularly those with housing facilities, should monitor the current monkeypox outbreak and develop a contingency plan to address any cases among members.
Like the precautions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, fraternal organizations should consider educating their members about monkeypox and steps they can take to reduce the risk of contracting and transmitting the virus to other members. Additionally, fraternal organizations with housing facilities should have a plan in place to prevent the spread of monkeypox if a member living in a residential housing facility contracts it. If a member living in a fraternity or sorority owned or managed housing facility contracts monkeypox, the CDC has identified the risk of transmission through linens, such as towels and bedsheets, and commonly shared items, such as books or hair products. There is also a risk of transmission through respiratory secretions or close physical conduct in situations where members are sharing rooms.
As recommended by the CDC, a strong monkeypox contingency plan ideally should address the following areas:
Organizations should consider developing procedures for members to report a suspected or confirmed monkeypox infection, which may include:
Identifying a local or regional volunteer or paid staff person to receive reports of suspected or confirmed infections;
Providing all members with information about isolation protocols;
Ensuring facility staff follows safety guidelines on cleaning and isolation protocols;
Regularly educating and enforcing risk reduction with all members to prevent further infections.
Communicating regularly with members who are isolating until the end of isolation.
Per the CDC, members or residents who suspect or know they have monkeypox need to isolate until they confirm through testing that they do not have monkeypox or until they fully recover. Consider the following when developing isolation protocols :
Members who are infected should quarantine until all symptoms have resolved, which can be between two and four weeks or until any skin lesions have completely healed and a new layer of skin has formed.
Members who are isolating should communicate regularly with your organization’s designated volunteer or paid staff.
Your designated volunteer or paid staff should clearly and compassionately communicate to infected members that they may not attend organizational meetings or activities during their isolation period.
Isolating members should use separate bathroom facilities (not shared with any other persons) with a door that can be closed.
Personal Protective Equipment
Staff or members tasked with providing meal service to a quarantined member or cleaning any spaces or items used by a potentially infected member should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (“PPE”).
PPE should include gowns, gloves, eye protection, and an N-95 mask or respirator. It is important that staff members wear long pants and long sleeves to minimize the risk of contact with infected particles.
Potentially infected members should wear a disposable mask, long sleeves, and long pants to ensure that any skin lesions are covered if they need to leave their isolation space to receive medical treatment.
Cleaning and disinfection
If a member living in a fraternity or sorority owned or managed housing facility is exposed or infected with monkeypox, facility staff should engage in thorough cleaning of the facility using appropriate PPE.
First, gather any soiled linens or clothing – do not shake to avoid spreading infected particles.
Clean hard surfaces and household items using an EPA-registered disinfectant, focusing on surfaces the potentially infected member may have touched.
Clean soft or upholstered surfaces using a surface-appropriate disinfectant. Avoid vacuuming to avoid the risk of spreading infected particles.
Dispose of any potentially soiled waste in a sealed trash bag.
These suggestions are based on current CDC guidance as of the date of this post. CDC guidance is regularly updated so organizations should refer to the CDC website for the most up to date guidance.
Ideally, your organization will not need to use its monkeypox contingency plan but being prepared in advance for a possible monkeypox infection in one of your chapters or one of your organization’s residential living facilities can help your organization prevent a single infection from turning into a larger outbreak.
Tran Arrowsmith attorneys are available to help your organization navigate any issues related to the monkeypox outbreak or the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.