West Hollywood’s name has been mentioned frequently when discussing the COVID-19 crisis, and not necessarily for the best of reasons. The city was widely publicized as being a kind of epicenter for the Los Angeles County outbreak after it appeared to have the highest number of reported cases outside of LA proper. Add to that the publicity around the COVID-19 illness of the city’s Mayor, John D’Amico.
But the numbers to support that narrative did not hold and the numbers have been changing for a variety of reasons.
As of Tuesday afternoon, March 31, of the cities within LA County, West Hollywood – which has its own coronavirus webpage — had the third highest number of reported cases, 56, behind Glendale at 76. Other cites also reported high numbers: Torrance reported 53 cases; Santa Monica 49, and Santa Clarita 48.
But not unexpectedly, the City of Los Angeles itself reported 1,386 cases. Within those city limits and close to West Hollywood, Melrose reported 100 cases, Hollywood reported 61.
That other cities and unincorporated areas report far fewer or zero cases is widely believed a result of having less access to healthcare and testing sites.
West Hollywood Mayor Pro-Tem Lindsey Horvath concurs, telling the Los Angeles Blade that the numbers are nothing unusual within the whole of LA County.
“We have not gotten any indication that there’s anything ‘unique’ to West Hollywood that accounts for our numbers, as they are comparable to neighborhoods that mirror our size and density,” said Horvath.
“What I personally think is that more people have access to good healthcare resources and testing in this area, and so we have more people that have had the good fortune of being tested. I am concerned for areas that are not reporting higher numbers, especially due to a lack of access to testing. We need to work hard to make more testing facilities available as quickly as possible so we know who has it and can treat them accordingly. I’d rather see higher numbers here because we’re getting people tested and getting them care than not testing and not knowing.”
D’Amico, who is also HIV positive, is reportedly on the mend from his case of coronavirus, telling friends on Facebook that he passed the necessary days of quarantine post-symptoms and is now feeling physically better. He displayed his progress by posting a video of him walking his dogs.
Since West Hollywood is also known as a bastion for LGBTQ rights and sexual freedom, questions about the role sexual culture might play in the outbreak of COVID-19 have logically arisen. For instance: how and when might the sexually active among us be able to resume normal sexual activity, which for many, involves anonymous hookups?
It’s a question West Hollywood Councilmember John Duran — who is also HIV positive — tackled forthrightly on March 28 in one of his daily coronavirus update Facebook posts, which set off a firestorm of comments amongst its readers.
“Push for hookup apps to be shut down during these days,” read one comment. “I know close people that are actually on [the apps]. It’s really counter active.”
“The apps,” as they are called colloquially, refer to Grindr, Scruff and other such dating apps gay men use to meet hookups. Both of these apps have issued warnings to users at various points in the last weeks, encouraging chatting versus meeting up and reiterating public health guidelines.
“It would take something from the federal government,” Duran said, to shut down operation of hookup apps. “Don’t have the power.”
“From my personal interactions, people are just chatting,” he continued. “For the most part people are self-quarantining. They just want to interact. People are suddenly being forced to engage in conversation.”
Duran pointed out that while sexual intercourse itself is not necessarily an effective means of transmitting the virus, COVID-19 is casually transmitted so touching and kissing can spread the coronavirus.
“We are all trying to avoid close contact with others right now to starve the virus of host,” Duran said. “That is the whole point of isolating. So you should have as few contacts on the outside as possible. By definition, this means as few sexual partners as possible also. This is not forever. This is just for this moment. It will pass.”
Duran recommended other methods of intimacy.
“This doesn’t preclude phone sex, video sex on FaceTime or other apps and masturbation,” he wrote. “If you need human contact, it is still available through modern technology. I know it’s not the same. But this is not forever. This is just for now so we stay alive.” (See Duran’s Facebook post below)
Every day brings new numbers and new recommendations.
Locally, Duran provides daily updates and shares fears, hopes and inspiration on his Facebook page.
One suggestion on how to beat the boredom of staying safer at home is to be creative. For instance, someone posted a video in which one can image Beyonce singing about putting a ring on it as a game involving a dildo and a robot vacuum.
Here’s John Duran’s honest and useful sex post:
Not the usual daily update BUT WHAT ABOUT SEX DURING A PANDEMIC?
If you are sensitive about sexual information or discussions, do not read the rest of this post.
One of the things we did during the AIDS epidemic is we created SAFER SEX practices. My friend Seth Browning pointed out that it is listed on Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchy. It’s right above the need for safety: friendship, family and sexual intimacy. He also suggested that I post this information since we are all in the same THIRST for human intimacy and contact.
IS IT EVEN APPROPRIATE TO HAVE THIS DISCUSSION DURING A CRISIS? A crisis that lasts one week or two – probably not. We can all abstain if need be. But a crisis that continues for weeks and possibly months (and maybe annually) – ok – now we need to think this through a bit.
Because denying sexual intimacy for long periods of time will lead to human misery. Is sex worth risking your life over? No. But is it possible to develop guidelines for safer sexual practices to minimize risk? Yes. I think so.
How do we do that during COVID? It’s not going to be the same as HIV/AIDS. Some similarities. Some differences.
Let’s start with some facts:
*. COVID is spread by droplets in the air when someone sneezes or coughs.
*COVID is spread by saliva and mucous.
*COVID HAS been found in feces of persons infected.
COVID HAS NOT been found in semen or vaginal fluids.
*So unlike HIV or other STI’s – COVID is not spread effectively through intercourse. However, some caveats to consider:
During sexual play COVID can be spread through
* Kissing. It’s the most effective way to transmit actually. With HIV, we told everyone that KISSING is 100% safe. IT was and still is. That is NOT the Case with COVID!
*Rimming. Definitely a means of transmission and to be avoided. While ok with HIV – not OK with COVID.
So, what’s the most effective strategy from here?
*Let’s start with the obvious. WE ARE ON LOCKDOWN AND QUARANTINE. So, the best method is to stay and home and avoid contact with others for all reasons – including sex! For the most part, we are all doing this. But if this goes on for weeks/months, it is going to get more difficult as time goes on.
This doesn’t preclude phone sex, video sex on FaceTime or other apps and masturbation. If you need human contact, it is still available through modern technology. I know it’s not the same. But this is not forever. This is just for now so we stay alive.
And for the record – goes without saying – but intimacy is possible without any sex at all! We know that. But for the sake of discussion, let’s continue.
*If you have a partner (and you’re still speaking LOL) and you live together and are sexually monogamous – you have hours to play (if you wish). If you have been together for over 20 years – there’s always TIGER KING! (LOL)
*If you have a partner and you do not LIVE together – this is a limited contact. Just understand that anyone that you came in contact with while shopping for groceries or other trips around town that were necessary – places you and your partner to some risk with those contacts. It is the same level of risk that we take when we leave our homes on that rare occasion for food and other necessities.
* We are all trying to avoid close contact with others right now to starve the virus of hosts. That is the whole point of isolating. So you should have as few contacts on the outside as possible. By definition, this means as few sexual partners as possible also. This is not forever. This is just for this moment. It will pass.
*Condoms and dental dams can reduce the risk of COVID transmission. Especially during oral sex. This time it IS the SALIVA that you are trying to avoid contact with rather than other bodily fluids. THIS IS A BIG DIFFERENCE between HIV and COVID. With HIV – it was semen or blood. With COVID – it is saliva.
*Drug use impairs judgment. Generally a bad idea anyways. An EXTREMELY bad idea during an epidemic.
Now, don’t judge me too harshly. I am not writing this to encourage people to break quarantine. I am writing this as a pragmatist realizing that this isolation may continue for weeks or longer. And if that occurs, we are going to be seeking information and scientific facts to create safer sex practices during an epidemic. I write this – because it is responsible to have adult conversations about this topic.
Consider this the “SATURDAY NIGHT” update for Conoronavirus “AFTER DARK”.
Thanks for letting me address a topic that needed to be placed on the table.
Karen Ocamb contributed to this story.