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Coronavirus

What’s next in COVID-19 fight?

As number of cases seems to be leveling off, gov’t, businesses looking ahead

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COVID-19, gay news, Washington Blade

California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week laid out his road map for recovery for the state’s economy as well as public health. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The numbers are grim, in California as of Wednesday, April 15, there were 25,712 cases of persons testing positive for COVID-19 and 779 Californians who had lost their lives. In Los Angeles County there had been 10,047 cases with 360 Angelenos who had died. But, undeterred, California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom in his daily press conference Tuesday, April 14, laid out his road map for recovery for the state’s economy as well as public health.

Newsom’s strategy revolves around six key factors to bring back the state to a sense of normal albeit the governor cautioned that ‘new normal’ meant serious changes in how the public and businesses went about their daily routines. He also warned that until procedures and protocols were able to alleviate the risks and dangers of the transmission of the virus, for the immediate future there would be no large gatherings of the state’s residents in any setting.

The governor cautioned that when things reopen, they won’t be the same. Restaurants will have fewer tables and waiters will wear gloves and masks. Thermometers will be common in public spaces, as will masks and other protective gear. Schools could stagger arrival times of students to enforce physical distancing.

Large gatherings such as sporting events, concerts and fairs are “not in the cards,” Newsom said.“This can’t be a permanent state. It’s not it will not be a permanent state,” he added.

“This is not about going back to where we were before. It’s about going forward in ways that are healthy for all of us. But it won’t look the same,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, who was also present at the briefing, in response to a reporter’s question.

California’s six indicators for modifying the stay-at-home order are:

• The ability to monitor and protect our communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating, and supporting those who are positive or exposed;

• The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19;

• The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges;

• The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand;

• The ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing; and

• The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary.

For the past week, the Los Angeles Blade has been speaking with business owners, workers, suppliers, real estate companies, government officials and others directly impacted in West Hollywood especially.

Many of the participants asked to not be identified in fear of their remarks jeopardizing their individual or company’s situation and in some cases because the person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly to the media.

In simplest terms, even with an incremental reopening of the economy, the practical aspect for many of the businesses and their employees is survivability. Larger businesses have cash reserves or credit lines that will allow for a throttled return to operations, that however is not true of smaller and single-owner establishments.

The considerations are more than just rent or mortgages, it is paying staff, suppliers, taxes, and then having money to advertise to draw in customers. In the cases of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, which are the No. 1 draw to West Hollywood’s tourist-based economy, the new restrictive guidelines mean dramatic alterations to their routines and operations.

“It’s a practical matter to how I operate — well, will be forced to operate,” a restaurant and bar owner told the Blade. “I’m going to have to make sure that there’s enough space around my customers for this social distancing, means less tables, and frankly less wait staff. Oh then my bar, I’m not sure how that will work, like on Fridays or the weekends before this, it was wall-to-wall crowded. Now?” He paused then went on to note, “I’m going to have to train my security guys to what? Temp check plus check ID’s?”

Even now as businesses make plans to reopen, the past three weeks have taken a heavy toll on service workers, especially bartenders, wait staffers, drag performers, dancers and kitchen staffers. Looking ahead, many are scared that even if their employers reopen, they may not have a job to go back to if staffing needs are lessened by the reality of the new restrictions cited by Newsom and public health officials.

Kevin Spencer, a former bartender and West Hollywood resident has been leading a private effort to fundraise for service workers furloughed or laid off by the COVID-19 crisis. “The fundraising effort is to provide support for nightlife workers who are affected,” he told the Blade. “It’s money for food, medical, you know, essentials — I want to foster a sense of community.”

Spencer via social media and Zoom virtual community meetings alongside a working partnership with the Alliance for Housing & Healing set-up ‘WeHo’s Nights In.’ The website campaign from April 10 until its scheduled end on April 19 (helpweho.com) has already raised $9,387 of its $10,000 goal. Spencer told the Blade that his efforts were also partnered with the website wehocollective.com and that both were focused on small-dollar donations.

While his efforts are focused on the current state of affairs, Spencer acknowledged he is very concerned about the path forward. “I plan to keep this effort going as long as the need is there,” he said.

The severity of the economic impact has some WeHo business owners wondering if they’re able to even consider reopening. “What about rent — are the landlords willing to defer payments or even breakdown past due rent in smaller chunks spacing them out until the debt’s repaid?”

That question was asked by one owner who admitted that he just didn’t have the cash reserves and that even though he’s applied for the federal relief program passed by Congress, the Paycheck Protection Program, a $350 billion fund for direct business loans as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Stimulus Package signed into law last month by President Trump, his operating costs meant that even pre-pandemic margins are razor-thin.

“If I’m restricted to the number of customers- especially during lunchtime which is my busiest time, I’m just going to lose money. People only have a certain amount of time and I’m not going to set up to a bunch of carry-out and I can’t afford delivery,” he said.

“Everyone is going to have to rethink how business will be conducted moving forward,” WeHo City Council member John Duran told the Blade. “There’s not going to be this ‘magical day’ when everything returns to normal,” he said.

Duran acknowledges that while WeHo’s larger retail operations will be able to return to normal operations, others, the smaller individual businesses likely won’t. “Property owners, nightclubs, restaurants, they are all going to have to manage a new way of working with how to manage to live with COVID-19.”

He reflected that the current pandemic will simply mean that WeHo as a community will have to adapt.

“There are three things that historically change things. War, famine, and plague, which if you look at the history of our city, it was founded during the AIDS pandemic and we survived because we adapted to a new reality. The LGBTQ community, which is a greater part of our city, can and will adapt, so will our businesses,” Duran said.

Gov. Newsom’s edict on large gatherings, in addition to directly impacting nightclubs, especially also affect conventions and large business meetings.

Charles Chan Massey and his husband Joseph Chan co-own Los Angeles-based SYNAXIS Meetings & Events. Charles weighed in regarding the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their business.

“The majority of the events we manage are multi-day conferences. We have had three events that have had to shift dates so far: one in the finance industry, held annually in Chicago, originally scheduled for this month, that we have moved to August; a second for a segment of the cancer community, scheduled to be held this year in the LAX-area, where physicians, patients, and caregivers attend, originally slated for July, now rescheduled for October; and a third in the international tourism market, also scheduled for August in Los Angeles, that we’ve moved to late October. In all three cases, we have built contingencies into the revised venue contract addendum(s) in case we need to postpone yet again.”

“Conferences and events are by very their nature spaces where people go to interact with others who share common interests. The events industry is having to rethink what we’re all about. We started our company in 1994 so we’ve held events all over the world through civil disobedience, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, SARS, and 9/11 but we’ve never experienced anything quite like this. We really are in uncharted territory,” Chan Massey told the Blade.

West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico, seen here walking his dogs after recovering from Covid-19, says “I think we’ll see West Hollywood continue to lead the way…” (Photo D’Amico’s Facebook Page)

John D’Amico, the mayor of West Hollywood, told the Blade in an emailed statement on April 15: “The city’s response to the Covid-19 crisis continues to develop, along with Gov. Newsom’s, even as we are committed to assisting our business community to reopen when we can, modify their current business models and to adapt to new challenges with respect to proper public health guidelines. Times will be tough, but I think we’ll see West Hollywood continue to lead the way in creating new entertainment and community experience options.”

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Coronavirus

L.A. County on track to bring back mandatory indoor masking

If LA county stays in CDC designated High Community Level for 2 consecutive weeks officials would implement a universal indoor masking

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health indicated that if the upward trend in coronavirus numbers continues, due to the increased circulation of the more infectious BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants coupled with increased community spread, officials may order a return to indoor masks.

On Friday, Public Health said that while the county currently remains at the CDC designated COVID-19 Medium Community Level. There are increasing concerns about the impact of new Omicron sub-variants on transmission and hospitalizations that could result in the County moving into the High Community Level designation sometime later this summer.

Barbara Ferrer, Director of LA County Public Health expressed concern and cautioned Angelenos as the region prepares for the July 4th holiday weekend.

“Since July 4 is right around the corner and many of us are looking forward to celebrating Independence Day with family and friends, it is important to remember that many of our loved ones may be older adults, or have serious underlying health conditions, or not yet been vaccinated and boosted,” Ferrer said.

“Given the rising number of COVID cases and hospitalizations, and the increased circulation of the more infectious BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, it is extra important to take steps that reduce the risk of transmission especially over the long holiday weekend; this helps us protect ourselves, our families, and our community,” She continued adding, “With a little planning, you can have a great time celebrating while keeping each other safe. Please be sure to remind friends and family to stay home and skip the celebration if they feel sick or have tested positive.  It is also a great idea for everyone to test themselves before getting together, ideally on the day of the gathering. It is always best to celebrate outdoors, and if people come indoors for part of the gathering, wearing a mask is advisable, particularly if there are individuals at high risk of severe illness should they become infected.”

LA County Public Health pointed out in a statement that six of the seven Early Alert metrics Public Health are tracking continue to convey cause for Medium or High Concern. Moreover, in the past week, four Early Alert Signals moved upward in the level of concern: The case rate in the lowest income areas and the number of new outbreaks at Skilled Nursing Facilities per week, both moved up to High Concern.

The number of new outbreaks in settings for People Experiencing Homelessness is now at Medium Concern. And the number of worksite clusters increased, moving from Medium to High Concern for the first time since Public Health started tracking this metric in early March.

There was also an uptick in the percentage of Emergency Department Visits. The only measure indicating Low Concern is the number of sewer systems with a two-fold increase in viral load.

The first of two hospital metrics in the CDC Community Levels Framework is the seven-day total of new hospital admissions per 100,000, which rose this past week to 8.1 admissions per 100,000 people. This is a 56% increase compared to one month ago. The second hospital metric, the seven-day average for the proportion of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, also increased this past week to 4.2%.

If the county moves into the CDC designated High Community Level and remains there for two consecutive weeks, the county would implement a universal indoor masking requirement for everyone age 2 and older in LA County as a safety measure aligned with the CDC framework. The safety measure would remain in effect until the county returned to the CDC Medium Community Level designation, or lower, for two consecutive weeks. 

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Coronavirus

CDC: 85% of gay & lesbian adults in U.S. are vaccinated against COVID

Data on COVID-19 vaccination among LGBTQ persons limited because of the lack of routine SOGI data collection at the national & state levels

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Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/GSA

ATLANTA – A new study report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), found that found 85.4% of gay and lesbian Americans above age 18 had received at least one vaccine dose as of October 2021.

The study, conducted from August 29 until October 30, 2021, also found that by comparison, only 76.3% of heterosexuals reported receiving at least an initial dose by the same date.

The report noted that Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations have higher prevalence of health conditions associated with severe COVID-19 illness compared with non-LGBT populations.

The potential for low vaccine confidence and coverage among LGBT populations is of concern because these persons historically experience challenges accessing, trusting, and receiving health care services

Data on COVID-19 vaccination among LGBT persons are limited, in part because of the lack of routine data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity at the national and state levels.

In March of 2021, the Blade reported the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has revealed deep-seated inequities in health care for communities of color and amplifies social and economic factors that have contributed to those communities being hit hardest, and Mega-vaccination centers set up by California health officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been addressing and tracking the issue- the LGBTQ communities are still not being tracked.

This lack of data collection has frustrated and angered California State Senator Scott Wiener who authored a bill last year that passed through the legislature and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom last Fall that mandates gathering sexual orientation and gender identity data related to the COVID testing in California.

“We’re one year into the pandemic, and LGBTQ people continue to be erased in our public health response to COVID-19 — similar to our invisibility throughout history. No government is successfully tracking COVID-19 cases in the LGBTQ community, despite a law I wrote mandating that California do so,” Weiner told the Blade. “And, we now know that LGBTQ people are more vulnerable to COVID-19. We’ve also just learned that vaccination demographic data doesn’t include LGBTQ data. It simply shocking that in 2021, progressive health agencies continue to forget about our community,” he added.

The CDC also noted that gay and lesbian adults were more likely to be concerned about COVID-19 and to believe in the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

“We know that the prevalence of certain health conditions associated with severe COVID-19 illness, such as cancer, smoking, and obesity, are higher in LGBT populations, and access to health care continues to be an issue for some people in the LGBT community,” Dr. A.D. McNaghten, a member of the CDC’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team and corresponding author of the study, told ABC News. “We wanted to see if vaccination coverage among LGBT persons was the same as non-LGBT persons.”

The CDC data recorded that bisexual and transgender adults had similar vaccination rates to heterosexual adults with 72.6% of bisexual adults fully vaccinated by the end of October, as were 71.4% of transgender adults. The numbers however for Black and Hispanic lesbian women had lower rates of vaccination at 57.9% and 72.6%, respectively, compared to Black and Hispanic heterosexual women at 75.6% and 80.5%, respectively.

Higher percentages of gay or lesbian adults and bisexual adults reported that they thought COVID-19 vaccine was very or somewhat important to protect oneself (90.8% and 86.8%, respectively) compared with heterosexual adults (80.4%), and higher percentages of adults who identified as transgender or nonbinary reported they thought COVID-19 vaccine was very or somewhat important to protect oneself (83.2%) compared with those who did not identify as transgender or nonbinary (80.7%).

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Coronavirus

White House orders distribution of 400 million free N95 masks

Dr. Tom Inglesby, the administration’s Covid testing coordinator; “We know that these masks provide better protection than cloth masks”

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President Joe Biden (Blade file photo/screenshot)

WASHINGTON – As the latest surge of the highly contagious and easily transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to cause a rise in hospitalizations, especially among unvaccinated adults and children, the White House announced Wednesday it is making 400 million N95 masks available for free at thousands of locations across the nation.

The plan an admkistartion official said, is to start shipping the nonsurgical masks to pharmacies and community health centers to distribute this week, which will come from the Strategic National Stockpile.

In an interview with NBC News, Dr. Tom Inglesby, the administration’s Covid testing coordinator, said, “We know that these masks provide better protection than cloth masks.”

The N95 masks will be made available to everybody, and recipients will not be prioritized based on vulnerability to Covid, income or other criteria. Inglesby said the administration was “confident that people who want to access them will be able to access them,” but it was not immediately clear how many masks a person could receive at one time.

On January 13, President Joe Biden had announced a plan to have the government distribute 1 billion rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests free to Americans, along with the N95 masks, as the administration works to fight the spiraling upward spike in coronavirus cases.

The White House website to order free at-home Covid tests went live Tuesday. The website says: “Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests. The tests are completely free. Orders will usually ship in 7-12 days.”

A White House official said Wednesday that the distribution of 400 million masks would be the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history.

Inglesby told NBC News that the administration was “absolutely preparing for the possibility of additional variants in the future” and that people could expect the government to make N95 masks “more and more available.”

Biden announces free masks, tests to fight omicron:

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