WASHINGTON — The Obama administration declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico late Friday over the Zika virus, saying the outbreak on the island has become serious enough to require the extraordinary step.
The declaration by the US Department of Health and Human Services allows the Puerto Rican government to receive more federal funds and reassign local public health officials to step up the efforts to fight the virus.
“This emergency declaration allows us to provide additional support to the Puerto Rican government and reminds us of the importance of pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and their partners taking additional steps to protect themselves and their families from Zika,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.
According to the Puerto Rico health department, there are now 10,690 confirmed cases of Zika on the island, including 1,035 pregnant women.
The Puerto Rican government can now apply for federal funds to train people to help with mosquito control and public education to help people protect themselves from the spread of Zika. It can also reassign public health or agency workers to beef up the response teams.
Puerto Rico has been hit hard by the virus, far harder than anywhere in the continental United States. On Thursday, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, visited the island and warned that as much as 25 percent of residents could be infected with the virus by the end of the year.
The move comes a day after HHS announced it will shift money around to free up an additional $81 million, including $34 million at the National Institutes of Health and $47 million at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, to fight the virus.