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HHS lays out details for Trump’s plan to confront HIV/AIDS

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The Trump administration has laid out details for its plan to fight HIV/AIDS. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Top officials in the Department of Health & Human Services laid out details on Wednesday of President Trump’s plan to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030, asserting “significant new resources” would be in the upcoming budget request for domestic HIV/AIDS programs after two years of proposed cuts.

In a conference call with reporters, the officials fleshed out the plan announced by Trump this week during the State of the Union address, saying the goal was to reduce new HIV diagnoses by 75 percent within five years, and by 90 percent within 10 years.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, described the effort as a “laser-focused program” that will target 48 counties in the United States, D.C., and San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as seven states where the epidemic is mostly in rural areas.

(A map pinpointing those locations, including the seven states — Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina — can be found online at hiv.gov.)

Those areas, Redfield said, largely form the basis for where new HIV infections are happening in the United States.

But Redfield also said minority communities, including LGBT people, are especially at risk for HIV infection.

“Recent data has showed our progress in reducing the numbers has plateaued, increasing the burden of new infections, particularly in African-American and Latino gay and bisexual men, transgender individuals, women of color and people living in the South,” Redfield said. “Now is the time to change this and we have the tools to end the epidemic and we have to apply them.”

Redfield said the targeted geographical areas were identified as a result of monitoring trends for much of the 38,500 new HIV/AIDS infections last year.

“I was shocked that it was only 48 counties out of over 3,000 counties in the United States, so it shows that we had a very geographically focused outbreak, that if we could augment the capacity of those 48 counties in response to these new infections, and begin to prevent new infections, we could drastically reduce the number of new infections,” Redfield said.

The additional seven states, Redfield said, were selected because new infections were happening there, but were in rural areas and less concentrated.

The health officials said the new efforts will reenergize the fight against HIV/AIDS after a period of stagnation in which the effort to stop new infections has plateaued.

Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health, said 40,000 new infections are still happening throughout the United States each year.

“HIV has cost America too much for too long,” Giroir said. “We have lost 700,000 American lives since 1981, and unfortunately, despite the emergence of new tools and new techniques, we are at high risk of another 400,000 becoming infected with HIV over the next decade.”

In response to a question from the Washington Blade, Giroir said the new approach to fighting HIV/AIDS would take the form of increased funding for HIV/AIDS programs in the budget request Trump will submit to Congress next month.

“We absolutely want to confirm that there will be significant new resources to support the effort you just heard outlined,” Giroir said. “The scientific community…as well as our closest advisers and technical experts devised a plan, submitted a plan to the budget, and we’re very confident we will have the sufficient resources provided in the 2020 budget for us to begin this very aggressive plan.”

A budget proposal with increased funds for HIV/AIDS would be a change for Trump. His first two budget requests to Congress sought funding cuts for both domestic HIV programs, chiefly the Ryan White Care Act, and programs designed to fight the global epidemic, such as PEPFAR. Although the cuts to domestic programs were diminished in the second budget, the cuts to global programs were still considered draconian.

Giroir, however, said the increased funds in the next budget request will be for domestic efforts, so the global fight is another matter.

“I was speaking specifically about the domestic programs,” Giroir said. “I don’t have any information on global programs.”

In response to subsequent questions from reporters, the health officials wouldn’t give details about the extent to which domestic funds would be increased, but affirmed new money would come from requesting additional funds as opposed to restructuring existing programs.

Of course, those funds can only be appropriated by Congress despite whatever request the Trump administration, as evidenced by the recent war between Trump and Congress over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Giroir emphasized the importance of Congress appropriating the funds for the Trump administration to pull off the HIV/AIDS plan.

“We are very confident the president’s budget, as will be proposed, will be sufficient to support our 2020 activities in this initiative, so we need Congress to support the budget and support the increased resources that we ask for,”  Giroir said.

Key to the strategy, the health officials said, will be ensuring these communities have access to PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, for HIV prevention.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, maintained the importance of PrEP and medications to reduce viral loads as part of this effort.

“You treat an individual and bring their viral load to a below detectable level, they will not transit their virus to another individual, and we know that pre-exposure prophylaxis works in more than 97 percent of the cases,” Fauci said. “If you put those two together, theoretically, then, if you get everyone that’s infected on anti-retroviral and decrease the viral loads to below detectable levels, and give those who need PrEP PrEP, you can end the epidemic as we know it, and that is our goal.”

Although the U.S. government is already taking steps to confront HIV/AIDS, the health officials also billed the effort as a multi-agency approach to HIV/AIDS in coordination with local communities that hasn’t been seen before.

Fauci said NIH would contribute to work by the Centers for AIDS Research, which are 19 centers throughout the country that worked on the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

“This is a five-to-10 year program, and we know when we do things in certain areas, we can do better as the years go by, so we’re committed to working very closely through our stakeholders with our colleagues to make sure that we implement to the best degree possible the program to make it successful,” Fauci said.

George Sigounas, administrator of the Health Resources & Services Administration, said two programs — the Ryan White and HRSA health centers  — will play an essential role in the plan.

Although Ryan White, which provides care to low-income people with HIV, will continue its role, Sigounas said HRSA health centers “will play a major expanded role in providing pre-exposure prophylaxis to those populations at the greatest risk of acquiring HIV infection.”

Michael Weahkee, principal deputy director of the Indian Health Service, said his organization will also play an important role in the initiative.

“In partnership with Native communities, we can end the HIV epidemic in Indian country by strategically focusing on those communities that have been most impacted,” Weahkee said.

According to Weahkee, American Indian and Alaska Native populations have seen a 63 percent increase in new infections among young Native men who have sex with men.

One reporter asked whether the plan reported by the New York Times within HHS that would eliminate transgender people from the definition of sex under the law would impact HIV/AIDS efforts.

Redfield, repeating comments he made earlier when asked about the anti-trans proposal, denounced stigma as the “enemy of public health” and said the “transgender population in particular needs to be reached out to.”

Fauci talked particularly about the importance of reaching the transgender community in fighting HIV/AIDS.

“Transgender people are certainly at high risk of infection and also are overrepresented in the group that are infected, so this program…will treat transgender people the way we treat any other patient, giving them the respect they deserve whether they are infected or whether they are at risk of infection,” Fauci said. “And that’s a commitment that we all have very firmly.”

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California

Calif. mother claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

SPRECKELS, Ca. – A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

On 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade- is it the last? Biden & others weigh in

The whole country is waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on one of the most serious challenges to abortion rights since the Roe v. Wade

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Abortion opponents gathered Friday for the annual March for Life March and Rally (Screenshot via WUSA CBS9)

WASHINGTON – As thousands gathered on the National Mall in D.C. Friday for the annual anti-abortion ‘March for Life March and Rally 2022,’ there were signs among the speakers and the participants gathered of a renewed sense of optimism that with a pending Supreme Court case, this year maybe the last annual gathering as the court looks poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“We are hoping and praying that this year, 2022, will bring a historic change for life,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said at the event, The Associated Press reported.

A large portion of the crowd during the March for Life rally on Friday was made up of young people, with some holding signs saying they were the “pro-life generation.”

The whole country is waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on one of the most serious challenges to abortion protections that the institution heard since the Roe v. Wade decision 49 years ago, which gave women the constitutional right to abortion.

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this past December, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case involving a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. 

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, passed in 2018 but has been blocked by two lower federal courts, allows abortion after 15 weeks “only in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality” and has no exception for rape or incest. If doctors perform abortions outside the parameters of the law, they will have their medical licenses suspended or revoked and may be subject to additional penalties and fines.

The lack of access is felt most heavily by marginalized people, says Kari White, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin and researcher with the Mississippi Reproductive Health Access Project. She was the lead author of a study published last month in the journal Contraception that found that Mississippians were more likely to wait longer for an abortion if they were low-income or Black, NPR reported.

In an analysis published by SCOTUS blogAmy Howe noted;

If the justices overturn Roe and Casey, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 26 states (including Mississippi) will implement complete bans on abortion. Although the stakes in the case are thus obviously high, Mississippi takes pains to assure the justices that overruling Roe and Casey would not have ripple effects beyond abortion rights. It distinguishes abortion from other constitutionalized privacy interests, such as interracial marriage and same-sex marriage, saying that those interests – unlike abortion – do not involve the “purposeful termination of a potential life.”

In a statement to the Los Angeles Blade after the oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last December had concluded, Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) warned;

“[Today’s] arguments should be a wakeup call for LGBTQ people. We must face the reality of a Supreme Court packed by one of the most reactionary presidents of our time, and we must get serious about passing a federal law that protects basic rights and liberties for our community. If you care about LGBTQ equality, it is essential as never before to do everything within your power to elect fair-minded local, state, and federal officials and to engage in real dialogue with those who do not yet fully understand or support LGBTQ people. We do not have the luxury of disengagement or passivity. If you are not actively involved in supporting a federal civil rights law for LGBTQ people, you are part of the problem.”

Minter further cautioned;

“While restrictions on abortion primarily harm women, they also compound the challenges that trans men and nonbinary people already face in accessing gynecological and reproductive health care. Being a trans man or a nonbinary individual who needs an abortion is often a nightmare even in jurisdictions that support reproductive freedom. In places like Texas, which are making abortions inaccessible to anyone, it is terrifying,”

“My heart goes out to the trans and nonbinary people who are living in fear, praying they never need this care, and that if they do, they can find a way out of the state. And for those who know they can’t afford to travel or pay for out-of-state care, there is no hope,” he added.

Graphic via NBC News

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris released a joint statement Saturday commemorating the 49th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade;

The constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago today is under assault as never before. It is a right we believe should be codified into law, and we pledge to defend it with every tool we possess. We are deeply committed to protecting access to health care, including reproductive health care—and to ensuring that this country is not pushed backwards on women’s equality.

In recent years, we have seen efforts to restrict access to reproductive health care increase at an alarming rate. In Texas, Mississippi, and many other states around the country, access to reproductive health care is under attack. These state restrictions constrain the freedom of all women. And they are particularly devastating for those who have fewer options and fewer resources, such as those in underserved communities, including communities of color and many in rural areas.

The Biden-Harris Administration strongly supports efforts to codify Roe, and we will continue to work with Congress on the Women’s Health Protection Act. All people deserve access to reproductive health care regardless of their gender, income, race, zip code, health insurance status, immigration status, disability, or sexual orientation. And the continued defense of this constitutional right is essential to our health, safety, and progress as a nation.

We must ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have the same fundamental rights that their mothers and grandmothers fought for and won on this day, 49 years ago—including leaders like the late Sarah Weddington, whose successful arguments before the Supreme Court led to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

At this pivotal moment, we recommit to strengthening access to critical reproductive health care, defending the constitutional right established by Roe, and protecting the freedom of all people to build their own future.

A recent poll conducted by CNN found that a large majority of Americans — almost 70 percent — said that they oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Thirty percent of respondents said that they supported the move. 

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Los Angeles County

250,000 COVID cases over past 7 days, unvaccinated at extreme risk

“While the small decreases in daily cases numbers, hospitalizations and test positivity are hopeful signs- we will need to remain cautious”

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released the latest data on COVID-19 Saturday that noted the County continues seeing high rates of transmission with more than 250,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past 7 days, down from the 291,000 cases reported for the previous 7 days.

“While the small decreases in our daily cases numbers, hospitalizations and test positivity are hopeful signs that the spread of Omicron is declining, we will need to remain cautious these next few weeks while transmission remains at the highest levels we have ever seen,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health. “With an average of 35,000 new cases identified each day, it is very easy for any one of us to encounter an infected person during the week. Avoiding crowds, keeping distance, wearing a high-quality mask, and washing our hands add layers of protection that can help each of us stay safe while also shielding essential workers during the surge.” 

The latest data on COVID-19:

  • 39,117 new COVID-19 cases (2,467,797 cases to date)
  • 72 new deaths due to COVID-19 (28,417 deaths to date)
  • 4,698 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19
  • More than 10,848,000 individuals tested; 21% of people tested positive to date

Faces of the COVID19 pandemic

KTLA reported on a West Hollywood resident Friday, Christian Cabrera, a 40-year-old father who was rushed to the emergency room last week, when he began struggling to breathe. Cabrera, who is not vaccinated and his condition has only gotten worse with pneumonia in both lungs “He keeps saying, ‘please keep take care of my son,’” his brother, Jino Cabrera told KTLA. “He knows he might not make it. He might die in there.”

According to KTLA, Cabrera’s lungs are now weak, making it difficult for him to speak. But he was able to send his brother a text message from his hospital bed in Sherman Oaks late Thursday.

“I can’t breathe again,” the message read. “I really regret not getting my vaccine, if I can do it all over again I would do it in a heartbeat to save my life. I’m fighting for my life here and I wish I have gotten vaccinated.”

Angelenos who were both vaccinated and boosted are 25 times less likely to end up in the ICU than unvaccinated people, according to the county health department.

“If you are fighting an enemy that is relentless, I think it’s vitally important to give your body every chance possible to get better because that’s what getting yourself vaccinated and boosted will do,” Dr. Thomas Yadegar, medical director of the ICU at Providence Cedars Sinai Tarzana Medical Center, told KTLA.

On Thursday, the County Department of Public Health confirmed 102 new COVID-19 deaths — the highest number reported in a single day since March 2021.

About 90% of those deaths were among residents who became ill with COVID-19 after Dec. 24, officials said.

Countywide, COVID-19 patients account for about 30% of those in the county’s intensive care units.

“Let’s not fool ourselves by not recognizing the danger presented by the Omicron variant which is capable of spreading with lightning speed and causing serious illness among our most vulnerable residents,” L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Tuesday.

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