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New York nurse describes a city in crisis

‘People need to stay at home and they are just not’

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New York nurse, gay news, Washington Blade

Firefighters applaud New York City health care workers earlier this month.

Jeff Day, a post-op nurse at a Mount Sinai hospital in New York, used to celebrate with patients recovering from gender-affirming surgeries. Now, he informs callers if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

Almost overnight this 49-year-old gay nurse and displaced southerner, found himself like many health care workers on the frontlines against a global pandemic. And once again, New York City is ground zero.

Less than two months ago, Day was assigned to a post-surgical care unit where he worked with transgender patients who had just completed gender-confirmation surgery. When those surgeries were categorized as “elective” at the start of the crisis in New York, he was redeployed to another Mount Sinai hospital where he answers phone calls for patients who have been seen by their physician and now are awaiting COVID-19 test results.

“Earlier in this crisis when I would call a patient and let them know they have COVID, I would receive a much stronger reaction,” Day said. “Before I would get: What does this mean? I live with my grandmother! Do I have to move out? It was all very doomsday.”

Now, callers worry about jobs and lost wages. Others quietly accept their fate.

Day said it feels surreal to leave his apartment building in Queens, and see all the old familiar places now quiet and almost dormant during his eerie walk to work.

“I certainly fear bringing COVID back home,” he said, thinking of his partner, Matthew, who also works in health care. “I fear that just leaving to go to the grocery store.”

It has only been a little over a month since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in New York on March 1. Since then, the state has seen more than 195,000 cases and more than 10,000 deaths, including that of Kious Kelly, an assistant nurse manager at a Mount Sinai cardiac observation unit. His death from coronavirus on March 24, prompted protests from healthcare workers demanding more protective gear.

“At this point we assume everyone is positive,” Day said. “I got to that point about a week ago when I saw somewhere in the media that we should behave as if everyone is positive, and that made sense for me.”

Despite the danger, Day continues to report to work and perform the often grim duty he’s been assigned. For him, this is his new routine under New York’s shelter-in-place order implemented on March 20.

As he walks the streets in his mask, with a jacket covering his scrubs against the early morning chill, a few scattered people wear masks of their own and stare suspiciously at one another. He quickly heads into a Dunkin Donuts for coffee.

“One change that I can now recognize, and that I take as a small win, is the reduction of hysteria in the phone calls that I receive. I think that is because of the education that the public has received.”

As he leaves the donut shop, a man sees his scrubs and shouts thanks through a mask for Day’s service as a health care worker. The middle-aged nurse’s heart melts from the love New Yorkers are unafraid to show for their first responders.

“It reminded me of 9/11,” he said, becoming emotional as he remembered a police officer he saw and thanked during that grim time.

But he admits there are some things that are the same that shouldn’t be.

“The blood donation ban is a problem,” Day said, his voice taking a serious tone. “It went from 12 months to a three-month ban. But in my opinion that is still too long — it should be a zero-day ban. It is based too much on perception still. Science does not support a ban of any kind, as evidenced by the lifting in numerous countries.”

Day is also upset by his transfer from working with post-op transgender patients.

“I personally view it as life-saving surgery, like a coronary bypass,” he explained. “Something that someone needs urgently. Ultimately, the decision is a collaboration between the patient’s primary care provider, surgeon and other professionals such as social workers and psychologists. There are a number of experts who chime in in order to prepare the patient for surgery.”

Day added that the patient often waited a year or longer to finally have the surgery only to have it canceled as “elective.”

“That compounds the anxiety for patients who have been waiting so long to get to this point,” he said.

Day notices a lot of changes in a short amount of time. He rides the subway to work and notices the E train during rush hour between Manhattan and Queens is usually standing room only even on a “slow” day. Now, there are only the “essential” and the financially desperate wearing masks as they warily eye one another.

“I don’t feel as safe on the train as before all of this started,” Day admitted. “It’s a very different world now. The number of homeless makes me feel less safe because since there are fewer riders, there is more room for them. The beggars are more aggressive since there aren’t as many people to beg from.”

While he makes the perilous train ride to a virus ground zero, he looks out the window and notices what he feels are far too many people still on the streets.

“People need to stay at home and they are just not staying there,” he said in frustration. “Ideally, I would like to see no one on the streets at all. And that’s coming from someone who just cannot stand to be cooped up. But things aren’t improving. Not even close.”

Still, the ride gives Day time to think about how he ended up in this situation. The memory brings a smile. His thoughts drift to his childhood in the South.

“I worked at McDonalds and I was fired because I was was a stupid high schooler who didn’t take it seriously,” he laughed, recalling his youth in Columbia, S.C. “I needed a way to supplement my income. I saw on a career board a post for a nursing assistant and I saw it paid more money.”

The experience was challenging, but he quickly fell in love with it.

“I found rewards working as a nursing assistant that I didn’t find working at a drive thru,” he explained. “I enjoyed the ‘thank yous,’ the smiles, the appreciation, the admiration and the respect.”

Today, he is a nurse practitioner and an assistant professor of nursing in Byers College at New York University where currently he teaches online classes for 300 nursing students. Though he makes it a point not to bring up COVID-19, if he can avoid it. He doesn’t want to overwhelm them.

“We are inundated with information,” Day said. “And they are looking to us for a nursing foundation. That is what I want to be for them.”

When he reaches his hospital, Day passes numerous tents where possible COVID-19 patients are triaged.

He has to pass them before he can reach the door. Once inside, everyone goes through a screening process.

“Patients with severe symptoms go on to the emergency department,” he said. “Others who may have a fever but it can be managed with Tylenol should stay home.”

But he said those with shortness of breath or an uncontrolled fever should go to the emergency department to have their care managed.

As for the other floors and departments, “They are empty compared to what I have seen in the past,” Day said, “The emergency department is utter chaos and a flurry of activity. But the rest of the hospital is haunting.”

Day once again is overcome with emotion as he thinks about his colleagues who face death daily.

“From stories that I’ve heard, COVID patients are coming to emergency with shortness of breath and are put on machines. They seem to be doing well,” he pauses for a minute to collect himself. “Then they decline and die. I would say this occurs daily.”

When Day returns home to his partner and his second job online, he often forgets to take a break and rest.

“I’m not good at self-care,” he chuckled. “And I don’t think that’s unusual for nurses. We are famously bad for taking care of ourselves while we take such good care of other people.”

However, he does take time to notice the changing world around him.

“What stands out to me,” Day said, remembering South Carolina, “is the gentility. I’m struck with the amount of time people have to share with one another that we really don’t have here in New York City.”

That’s why the change wrought by the virus seems so striking to him now after having spent 15-16 years in the big city.

“What strikes me is how empty Times Square is right now.”

In a moment reminiscent of the empty streets of Italy spontaneously filling with the singing of those in quarantine, someone in his apartment complex played the National Anthem on the saxophone while his building filled with cheers for first responders.

Days later, in a rare moment of time together and with few places left to go, Day and his partner visited

Matthew’s hospital to cheer on his colleagues.

This time, instead of tents filled with the sick and dying, they were greeted by a “heroes alley” consisting of ladder structures erected by neighboring fire departments and adorned with a large American flag.

The structure was placed near the emergency room entrance where workers had endured so much over the past few weeks.

“Whenever a worker walked in or out, the crowd would erupt into cheers and applause,” Day said proudly.

But what he most enjoyed was seeing the costumed fire department mascot, “Sparky,” wearing a face mask and bearing a homemade sign saying, “Sparky loves our health care workers.”

In that moment New York became a little more gentle if not genteel.

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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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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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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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