AUSTIN (KXAN) — One of the first people to get monkeypox in Austin said he’s worried about folks gathering at Pride this year as the virus — which can be spread to anyone, but has so far been most prevalent locally among gay and bisexual men — continues to spread.
“I’m curious what prevention is gonna happen at gay pride,” the Austin man told us. “This is not a fun illness. It hurts. It will be the most pain that they’ve ever been in.”
In 2019, roughly 400,000 people attended Austin’s Pride. The events were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19, but organizers say after a two-year hiatus, they’re ready to get things going again. The Beyond the Rainbow parade is happening on Aug. 20 this year.
Austin Public Health said they’ve been in touch with organizers, as they do with all major events, to make sure large outbreaks of illnesses don’t happen at Pride. There are 485 confirmed monkeypox cases in Texas, as of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest data update.
APH officials said there have been 51 confirmed and probable cases reported in Central Texas. COVID-19 cases have also been on the rise with the spread of the BA.5 subvariant.
Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, said they’ve recommended hand washing stations and sanitization at all fall festival events this year, including Austin City Limits Festival and University of Texas Football events. She also said they will be encouraging participants to avoid skin-to-skin contact and intimate contact with strangers, along with mask wearing when social distancing isn’t possible and staying home when sick.
Many of the practices that will help prevent monkeypox are things people have been encouraged to do for more than two years to stop the spread of COVID-19, which is also on APH’s mind as Austin nears the fall festival season.
“We’re starting to get that message out on our website,” Walkes said of both monkeypox and COVID-19 ahead of big events. “Our event organizers are prepared to put fliers up and do those things that they need to do to remind people of mitigation strategies, including letting their participants know ahead of time.”
KXAN has reached out to Pride organizers for additional details on how they plan to keep people safe and healthy and will updated this story if we hear back. We have also requested a copy of their health and safety plan.
“Our event organizers are as concerned as we are about having safe events and making sure that people enjoy things as safely as possible,” Walkes said.
Meanwhile, the Austin man who is still recovering from monkeypox weeks after being exposed said he hopes people take the virus seriously as they gather for events, Pride or others.
“I wasn’t able to sleep,” he explained. “Like, the pain level was a 10 out of 10.”