The U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services on Friday declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico because of the widespread transmission of the Zika virus, which poses a "significant threat" to public health.
The statement came at the request of Alejandro García Padilla, governor of the U.S. commonwealth, where the Zika virus is spreading rapidly, threatening hundreds of pregnant women and their unborn babies and women of childbearing age.
The declaration will allow HHS to provide added support to the government of Puerto Rico to address the outbreak on the island.
Specifically, declaration allows the government of Puerto Rico to apply for funding to hire and train unemployed workers to assist in vector control and outreach and education efforts through the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Dislocated Worker Grant program.
It also allows Puerto Rico to temporarily reassign public health workers funded through Public Health Service Act programs to assist in the Zika response.
As of Aug. 12, the Puerto Rico health department has had 10,690 laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika, including infections in 1,035 pregnant women. It believes the actual number of infections is likely higher because most people with Zika infections have no symptoms and might not seek testing.