Rep. Karen Bass is a fighting social justice community activist at heart. She’s no stranger to adversity, founding the Community Coalition in the late 1980s to fight the crack cocaine epidemic in South LA and the dire conditions that fed it, to being elected the first African American woman Speaker of the California Assembly in 2008/2009 during a significant fiscal crisis, for which she was honored by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library with the 2010 Profile in Courage Award. Now she serves as Chair of the important Black Congressional Caucus dealing with the Trump administration.
But it’s the knowledge she gained as a Physician Assistant and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program that is most pertinent now as she and her congressional colleagues fight to keep the coronavirus from killing thousands and destroying the American healthcare system and economy.
Bass has become known for her series of constituent town halls with one Tuesday night on coronavirus. She also has provided a lot of information about COVID-19 on her website.
Bass’ 37th Congressional District includes the Black gay wellness organization, In The Meantime Men where she has met with founding director Jeffrey King and ITMTM members. King talked to the Los Angeles Blade about the need for coronavirus testing kits to be provided to community-based organizations that provide care for people who are HIV positive.
But in a phone interview with the Los Angeles Blade, Bass says the response to the outbreak has been so bad, frontline community organizations will probably be the last to get the kits.
“We are so unfortunate because we’re so late. The administration knew about this virus months ago and unfortunately, we are not prepared,” Bass says. “We are not prepared with testing kits and I doubt very seriously that there will be any time soon that we will get testing kits to the level of community health centers. I think a lot of the testing kits that are being sent out now are hospital-based and are basically for people who are symptomatic. It is not for people without symptoms.”
That said, Bass agrees “150%” that testing kits should be made available, “especially to high-risk populations who might be immune compromised and folks with HIV by definition are immune compromised. And so folks with diseases, underlying problems, need to be the first ones that the test is provided to. But if you’re not without symptoms, I don’t see there being a possibility of being administered a test, even if you went to the hospital.”
The problem has been exacerbated by flu season, which produces similar symptoms such as a fever, difficulty breathing and a dry cough. But COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told the House Oversight and Reform Committee on March 11.
“I mean people always say, ‘Well, the flu does this, the flu does that,’” Fauci said. “The flu has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent. This has a mortality rate of 10 times that. That’s the reason I want to emphasize we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this.”
Part of the reasoning behind not testing people with flu-like symptoms is the fear of overwhelming the unprepared hospital system. And there was more dire news on Tuesday as the LA Times reported that people without symptoms could be infected “silent carriers.”
“’Stealth transmission’” is not only real but a ‘major driver’ of the epidemic, Columbia University infectious diseases researcher Jeffrey Shaman, who led the study published Monday in the journal Science,” told the LA Times. “Its contribution to the virus’ spread ‘is substantially undetected, and it’s flying below the radar.’”
Meanwhile, this is spring break, a time when young people who think they are “invincible” frolic in parks, beaches, and parties, ignoring the CDC recommendation about “social distancing.”
“I think that we are all going through a learning process and it is tough, especially if you’re talking about people who are healthy,” Bass says. “They’re not feeling symptomatic and that they could be the ones that pass on the virus. I think we are all in an educational process.”
Bass underscores just how new the virus is. “I’m certainly in an educational process and I have a medical background and I went through the AIDS crisis also from its very beginning. I watched all of Santa Monica Boulevard get wiped out near Vermont. That whole area there. I watched everybody die within a matter of two years.
“But I think that this is really hard because you don’t have to have any physical contact,” she continues. “It’s one thing if you tell people not to have physical contact — you don’t have physical contact for this. You could just be in a room with somebody. So, I think that it’s important that we all educate ourselves. And so my role is to do that. But I feel like we’re all going through this together.”
Bass says she is advising people “to follow what is coming out of the Center for Disease Control: to stay in, to order in, to not be in crowds. We’re just trying to share the advice, but we’re also trying to explain the reason why. And I think the reason why is not very clear. Like you tell people to shelter in home for how long? For a week, a month, a year? And that’s what’s leading to the panic because people don’t know.”
Rep. Karen Bass with LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin, Rep. Ted Lieu and LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl at an event sponsored by activist Torie Osborn before the coronavirus exploded (Photo courtesy Osborn)
There is also confusion around the end date, too. As of Tuesday morning, the date was the end or March or by April 4. But the mayor of New York City, which is essentially on lock down, says fighting the coronavirus may last throughout the summer.
Bass also wants to emphasize that everyone is on this journey together. “People are building the plane while it’s flying. In other words, this is a new virus. And so what is the best way, how long does it live on a surface, how close in contact should you be? All of this is a learning curve for all of us, including the scientific community. The medical community are trying to figure it out too,” Bass says. “That’s why you have medical folks getting sick. Just like you did with the AIDS virus until we learned that a finger stick could cause transmission. People never wore gloves when I was trained to draw blood, we were never trained on gloves. Those were changes that had to be made as we learned the character, the nature of the HIV virus.”
Bass is also concerned about all the misinformation, and the intentional harm being perpetrated on the internet.
“People should only get test kits from medical professionals. You can’t get test kits on the internet, for example, because there’s fake test kits — and people shouldn’t be testing themselves anyway. I don’t know how or why they would do that. But anytime you have something like this, you have bottom feeders who try to make money off of it. And part of doing that is claiming that they have access to tests that they don’t.”
As for test kits getting to organizations like In The Meantime Men, Bass was blunt.
“I don’t think they’re going to get test kits anytime soon. I think they’re trying to deal with hospitals right now. The problem is — they knew this was coming and they didn’t do anything about it. You remember it took a movement for HIV to be dealt with. It took a literal social justice movement.
“But that was obviously different,” she says. “I mean that was in a stigmatized population. And it wasn’t until it crossed over that people began to take it seriously. And then once it crossed over again, the people of color, then people stopped taking it seriously. So, this is very different because this impacts everybody.”
But, she added, getting testing in communities of color and poor communities, “I think the last place that they’re going to go is to community-based organizations. And obviously our community, inner city communities, rely more on the community-based organizations than they do the big hospitals.”
Her advice is for a community-based organization to be connected to their largest facility “so that they can refer people.”
In the end, Bass comes back to community. “We all have to stand together through this, and we need to educate ourselves,” she says. “We can’t assume this is like anything we’ve seen before.”
Bass’ coronavirus webpage is a very good source of collected information:
“For updated information from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health about this outbreak, please visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/ or call 211. Please note that many people are likely to call 211 so be prepared for increased wait times and remember that this is not a hotline reserved for the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.”
Culver City staff continue to receive updates from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and participate in planning regarding the novel (new) coronavirus. To learn the latest community information about COVID-19, including facility closures and event cancellations in Culver City, click here: https://www.culvercity.org/live/public-safety/emergency-preparedness/current-disaster-information
Here is what you need to know to protect yourself and your loved ones:
What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. Coronaviruses are common, and they include the common cold, but COVID-19 is a new strain.
What are the symptoms and how does it spread?
The most common symptoms include fever, cough and increasingly severe respiratory symptoms (trouble breathing). Our experience to date is that most people who are exposed to the virus, more than 80%, have mild or no symptoms. Some people, however, may have more complicated symptoms, including pneumonia or lung inflammation.
For confirmed COVID-19 cases, reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe symptoms, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Current research suggests that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure.
Am I at risk of contracting COVID-19?
It is important to know that the risk of COVID-19 to the general public in the United States continues to remain low and efforts are being undertaken to keep it that way. With that said, public health officials believe the situation will get worse. How much worse, depends not only on the response of local, state and federal public health officials, but on the public at large.
As mentioned above, some people are more at-risk of severe health effects from COVID-19. This includes but is not limited to those over 60 years of age, with growing risk as age increases; people with respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema; people with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes; and those who are immune-compromised, such as people in cancer treatment or with HIV/AIDS.
How can I help protect myself, my family, and my community?
Every person has a role to play in protecting themselves and helping prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here’s what you can do:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, & mouth
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw tissue in the trash
- Use a regular household cleaning spray/wipe to clean & disinfect frequently touched objects & surfaces
- Wash your hands often with soap & water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
Have there been cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.?
Yes. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020. Updated information on the number of cases of COVID-19 in the United States is available here.
Are there cases of COVID-19 in California?
Yes. The State of California now has the authority and ability to test individuals, and is receiving additional test kits, as requested. Updated information is available here.
Are there people with COVID-19 in Los Angeles County?
Yes. For the most up to date information regarding cases, visit the Los Angeles County Public Health Department’s website here.
What is Congress doing?
The House of Representatives passed an $8.3 billion spending measure that has been signed into law to fund the federal government’s response to the coronavirus and to assist state and local governments. Further action and legislation is expected.
I am a health professional. Where do I find resources for how to treat my patients and where to report cases?
The Los Angeles County Public Health Department has resources specifically for doctors, nurses and other health professionals, including Identifying and Managing Suspect Patients; Testing, Reporting, Infection Prevention, and specific guidance for care facilities, located here. Health care professionals can also sign up for the LA County Health Alert Network (LAHAN) here.
Information for Workers
Sick or Quarantined
In California, if you need to access paid family, medical, or sick leave you should visit or contact the State of California’s Employment Development Department at edd.ca.gov or call 1-877-238-4373 to contact a Paid Family Leave representative.
If you’re unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim. DI provides short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. For guidance on the disease, visit the California Department of Public Health website.
You can find more information from the Employment Development Department of California about disability or paid family leave benefits along with information about unemployment insurance benefits here: https://edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019/faqs.htm
If you’re unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim. PFL provides up to six weeks of benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week.
Reduced Work Hours
If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19, you can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. UI provides partial wage replacement benefit payments to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced, through no fault of their own. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and expected to return to work with their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week. However, they must remain able and available and ready to work during their unemployment for each week of benefits claimed and meet all other eligibility criteria. Eligible individuals can receive benefits that range from $40-$450 per week.
Information for Employers
Workplace Health and Safety
For information on protecting workers from COVID-19, refer to the Cal/OSHA Guidance on Coronavirus. Businesses and employers can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for help with planning and responding to COVID-19.
Reduced Work Hours
Employers experiencing a slowdown in their businesses or services as a result of the coronavirus impact on the economy may apply for the UI Work Sharing Program. This program allows employers to seek an alternative to layoffs — retaining their trained employees by reducing their hours and wages that can be partially offset with UI benefits. Workers of employers who are approved to participate in the Work Sharing Program receive the percentage of their weekly UI benefit amount based on the percentage of hours and wages reduced, not to exceed 60 percent.
Visit Work Sharing Program to learn more about its benefits for employers and employees, and how to apply.
Potential Closure or Layoffs
Employers planning a closure or major layoffs as a result of the coronavirus can get help through the Rapid Response program. Rapid Response teams will meet with you to discuss your needs, help avert potential layoffs, and provide immediate on-site services to assist workers facing job losses. For more information, refer to the Rapid Response Services for Businesses Fact Sheet (DE 87144RRB) (PDF) or contact your local America’s Job Center of California.
Information Regarding Tax Assistance
Employers experiencing a hardship as a result of COVID-19 may request up to a 60-day extension of time from the EDD to file their state payroll reports and/or deposit state payroll taxes without penalty or interest. A written request for extension must be received within 60 days from the original delinquent date of the payment or return.
For questions, employers may call the EDD Taxpayer Assistance Center.
- Toll-free from the U.S. or Canada: 1-888-745-3886
- Hearing impaired (TTY): 1-800-547-9565
- Outside the U.S. or Canada: 1-916-464-3502
Information for Parents of LAUSD Students
Los Angeles Unified, in partnership with the Red Cross, will continue to provide nutritious meals to all students who need them during the temporary closure of schools. Our Grab & Go Food Centers will be open beginning Wednesday, March 18, and will be staffed weekdays from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. To find the closest Grab & Go Food Center, see the map below or check the list of centers on this page: https://achieve.lausd.net/resources
This is an evolving situation. For updated information about this outbreak, please visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/ or call 211. Please note that many people are likely to call 211 so be prepared for increased wait times and remember that this is not a hotline reserved for the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.