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Christy Smith faces Trump super fan in May 12 special election

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The contrast couldn’t be more stark. Assemblymember Christy Smith is bright, effusive and clearly enjoys engaging with her community in campaign ads shot before the stay at home order. Mike Garcia loves fighter jets and his family. Voters with mail-in ballots must decide by May 12 which candidate will better represent the 25th congressional district in filling out former Rep. Katie Hill’s term.

The Los Angeles Times April 17 endorsement is straightforward.

“There’s no question which candidate is better prepared to step into the debate and help shape smart policy. That’s state Assemblywoman Christy Smith, a quietly accomplished and centrist Democrat whose background includes stints as a U.S. Department of Education policy analyst and as a longtime member of the Newhall School District board. Her experience guiding a school district through the last economic downturn and now the state through its pandemic response makes her uniquely qualified for precisely this job at precisely this moment,” said The Times.

“Smith’s opponent, by comparison, is simply not a good fit for Congress at any moment,” with the editorial noting that Republican Mike Garcia‘s “nice backstory…doesn’t translate into legislative competence.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after several Garcia supporters chimed in on Twitter about proving the LA Times wrong, on April 20, President Trump pecked out two tweets endorsing Garcia, the second of which hyped the Second Amendment: “[Garcia] is Strong on Crime, the Border, and the Second Amendment. Mike has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

“Thank you @realDonaldTrump for your support. I am running to keep this nation safe, lower taxes, grow jobs and to ensure we protect the Constitution through all times!” Garcia tweeted. He later added: “It is crucial to know the difference between the candidates, especially during times of crisis. I’m a former fighter pilot who believes CA taxes are out of control.”

“Like most voters in our community, I trust and prefer the endorsement of our doctors, nurses and firefighters,” Smith said in response. “Donald Trump is failing to provide testing to millions of Californians and encouraging citizens to go against the advice of public health professionals, putting their lives at risk, and delaying the re-opening of our economy.”

She, meanwhile, is completely focused” on getting “protective equipment to medical personnel, financial assistance for workers who have lost their jobs, and funding our health care system to lower costs.”

Smith’s campaign posted an online video with Trump on the coronavirus side by side with Garcia. “I think Trump is a good President,” says Garcia. “No, I don’t take responsibility at all,” says Trump. “Everyone should have to figure out how to fend for themselves,” says Garcia.

Smith criticized Trump for encouraging supporters to protest, to “LIBERATE” three states. “While millions of Californians are staying home to protect their families, emergency responders & frontline workers, @realDonaldTrump‘s remarks spurred reckless protests that could jeopardize public health for all,” she tweeted. “I saw this firsthand in Sacramento today.”

Smith was at the Capitol for the Legislative Budget SubCommittee Hearing on COVID-19.  As the daughter of a nurse, she applauded the nurse “patriots” who tried to block the unmasked, ungloved protesters.

That day, April 20, Los Angeles County reported preliminary results from a new scientific study suggesting that coronavirus infections “are far more widespread – and the fatality rate much lower – in L.A. County than previously thought,” according to a county press release. “The research team estimates that approximately 4.1% of the county’s adult population has antibody to the virus,” says the release, “which translates to approximately 221,000 to 442,000 adults in the county who have had the infection.”

On April 21, Yahoo News reported that the protests were organized around the country by Trump Republican groups, including a longtime political advisor to the wealthy family of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the leader of an organization called Minnesota Gun Rights, and InfoWars screamer Alex Jones.

But April 20 was important to Smith for another reason: it was the 21st anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, “which took the lives of 13 innocent souls and injured 24 others, we remember and honor the fallen by renewing our resolve to end senseless gun violence. #NotOneMore.”

Garcia offered no similar sympathy post.

In an April 22 phone interview, the Los Angeles Blade asked Smith if she was concerned that Trump’s promotion of the Second Amendment might be dangerous. She noted that her 25th CD has “a decidedly strong common-sense advocacy around gun control” with local high schools creating chapters of the March For Our Lives movement, as well as a strong and sizable Moms Demand Action group.

“While a number of us respect responsible gun owners’ rights, there is also a much, much greater proportion of the community who believes the time is now to take greater action, especially because one of the most recent school shootings that occurred prior to the COVID crisis and more people staying at home was at Saugus High School,” in Santa Clarita.

So, says Smith, Garcia’s “not going to get a lot of traction fighting about that issue in this district.” Additionally, “Donald Trump lost this district in 2016 by six points, and he was rebuked here again in 2018 when Democrats won this congressional seat. So, there is no love lost here for the president and his positions on a number of issues.”

In fact, says Smith, “the bulk of his platform is that he is a Trump loyalist. He’s not really putting forward any policy solutions on anything related to housing, or health care, environmental concerns, LGBTQ rights, women’s equity rights. So, I think for lack of an ability to formulate what it is he believes in and what he’s going to be fighting for, he just says he’ll stand with the president. In particularly in this moment, that’s not enough.”

Photo of Christy Smith by gay political activist Michael Colorge (via Facebook)

Meanwhile, work continues in the State Legislature, including work-arounds the unintended consequences of AB5 that was supposed to help gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors but has instead hurt by disallowing access to unemployment and other safety net funding.

“So, the good news on AB5 is a couple of things. At this time where a lot of those businesses, restaurants, performing arts spaces are closed anyway as a function of the Cares Act, independent contractors, 1099 employees are afforded through something called the PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance),inability to qualify for unemployment insurance. That includes in California, the $600 a week add on. It was also part of the Cares Act,” says Smith.

“On April 28, that link will be available to people across California to go on to EDD and apply for that financial support now, regardless of their current employment status, if at any point recently they have been an independent contractor or 1099 employee, they’ll be able to qualify. We’re being told that those qualifications, once everyone has their data in the system, will be given within 24 to 48 hours. So, help is on the way there.”

Smith says “progress has been made on negotiating on changes to AB5, particularly with freelance and for people in the different areas of the entertainment industry. Those fixes, according to the bill’s author, Lorena Gonzalez, will be added to a bill with urgency for when the legislature returns on May 4th, and so those will be added and moved on pretty quickly. We will continue to monitor that.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom must make the decision about whether to suspend or set AB5 aside during the crisis. “But I think there’s never been a more critical moment and more critical time that proves that — regardless of what happens with that bill going forward — we know that workers need these job protections. Because in crisis moments like this, people need to be able to access unemployment benefits, they need to have healthcare protections, they need to have return to work rights.”

“When workers are misclassified or they are out of the employment systems because employers aren’t adhering to those regulations, a lot of people end up getting hurt,” says Smith. “I heard somebody brilliantly say it a few weeks ago that crises like this, a pandemic fractures society along known fault lines. We definitely now know that one of those big fault lines in our employment system was those with rights and benefits and those without. Both sets of workers working equally hard, but some left out of the greater benefit of having some of those protections. So, I think it’s a conversation that will continue, but I am excited that we’ve made some progress, especially on the industries that are most impacted in Southern California, and we will continue to work on that.”

Smith says that she “completely agrees” and is “very, very happy” about the letter sent by California LGBT Legislative Caucus leaders Sen. Scott Wiener, and Assemblymember Todd Gloria asking Newsom to start LGBT healthcare data collection during the novel coronavirus crisis and will ask to have her name added to the roster. “That was one that didn’t end up in front of me, but I was glad that it happened,” she says.

Smith is also concerned about how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting non-profits.

“The work for the nonprofit community is important for two vital reasons, one of which is that they are a significant part of our social safety net in everything from provision of healthcare services to food support and housing support services. These are essential aspects of support in the time of crisis that are really urgently need it,” says Smith.

“But secondarily, they are one of California’s, in particular, largest employers,” she says. “About 15% of California is employed in the nonprofit sector. So, to not support nonprofits in this moment would be shortsighted from the perspective, not only losing the services, but also losing the really important employment that comes along with it.”

Smith “completely supports” Rep. Adam Schiff’s effort to get large non-profits such as the Los Angeles LGBT Center included in the Federal Reserve loan program.

“I completely support that. Large nonprofits and small. The LGBTQ Center, in particular, you know the number of folks that that helps day in, day out — to lose those vital and critical services would be a huge loss. To lose those 800 employees and the economic benefit that comes from that would be a huge loss,” Smith says.

“But here in the 25th CD, we have a cancer support organization and it does just enough every year to support those people on the healthcare margins. They are almost entirely out of money, yet they’re helping patients who now find themselves jobless and without their healthcare coverage,” she says. “Just last week they sent down almost the rest of their remaining funds paying for a year’s worth of chemotherapy treatment to a patient who had just become unemployed, but couldn’t get that treatment from the hospital unless she paid up front. So, there are very real life impacts that are happening from our nonprofits struggling right now.”

Smith, who has a strong background in education, is also concerned about how to help marginalized students in minority neighborhoods during coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve been part of conversations with legislative colleagues around how we continue to make sure that families in need — and that children in need, in particular — still have avenues to check in with the caring adults in their lives who usually are there through that physical school setting, but that they’re still having that opportunity. It’s been a very high priority for our state’s teachers to check with their kids, even the ones that don’t have that wifi connectivity or the technology. There are teachers all over the state making calls to homes to check in with kids, but in particular, with respect to those kids who struggle because they do find that homebase at school, I’d say it’s incumbent on all of us who care to continue to push out that resource publicly in places where we can so that they know where those support centers are. They know those phone numbers they can call just to check in with someone if they are struggling.”

Not just students, but teachers, too, need help.

“We recognize the significance of our schools as part of that vital social safety network. Kids on the margins are checking in with adults. They’re being seen by people who will know something is a little bit off and can help direct that child to get the help and support that they need. Having that opportunity be lost in this moment is really hard. I know I’ve talked to a number of teachers and it’s incredibly hard on our teachers right now,” she says. “They are really feeling it in profound ways; they’re struggling with it because they do the job because they care. It’s been hard.”

Smith says the legislature is moving in the direction of supporting more tele-health services – something Smith has incorporated in her own congressional campaigning.

“This is just a part of our team ethos now that we’re campaigning in an environment where we are calling people who have been at home and suffering through the challenges of this unusual isolation,” Smith says. “I’ve equipped anybody who’s volunteer phone banking for me with resource hotlines and information. We start every call to voters with, ‘Hi! First of all, we want to know how you’re doing.’ If the conversation moves in a direction where that person needs additional help, needs those resources, we point them in that direction. I am grateful that I have such an amazing and wonderful field team — there have been a couple of these calls now where we needed to call someone back a little bit later and say, ‘Just checking in on you. Wanted to make sure everything’s moving along okay.’ So, we take that role very, very seriously.

“This is about more than winning an election. This is about a very unique opportunity for us to be there as a support for our community,” Smith says. “But having grown up in a family where there was both mental health issues and domestic violence, it is an issue that is very near and dear to my heart and ever front of mind for me and something I’m going to continue to look at from both the policy perspective and then the work and advocacy that I do directly in the community.”

Despite her clear connection to the community, Smith says the race is still close because Democrats traditionally skip voting in special elections. She wants to reverse that trend.

“I just appreciate people to stay tuned to this May 12 election,” she says. “Please engage, if you can. If you have friends, family members who live in the district, urge them to vote because the thing that will make the difference in this election is if our voters get those ballots in. That’s it. That’s the single most important thing.”

If you want help with remote phone banking, go to: https://www.mobilize.us/mobilize/event/263189/

 

 

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AHF urges community outreach & education around monkeypox

“Our hope is this [monkeypox outbreak] is a passing issue, not something that’s ultimately a great cause for alarm and concern”

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Dr. Carl Millner (Screenshot/Press briefing June 20, 2022 AHF)

LOS ANGELES – During a press conference Monday, representatives from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) urged public health officials and other healthcare stakeholders to ramp up educational and outreach efforts to slow the current rates of the monkeypox virus transmission.

“Our hope is this [monkeypox outbreak] is a passing issue, not something that’s ultimately a great cause for alarm and concern,” AHF President Michael Weinstein said. “But it’s better [to be] safe than sorry.”

Weinstein, joined by the organization’s Interim National Director of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Stuart Burstin, and its West Coast Regional Director of Internal Medicine, Dr. Carl Millner, stressed the importance of minimizing community spread through measures that can reduce the likelihood of exposure to monkeypox.

These measures, they said, include avoiding skin-to-skin contact with individuals who are known to have an active infection or who were previously infected but may still carry a risk of transmitting the virus. 

Weinstein and Burstin both pointed to public health experts’ calls for patients who are recovering from monkeypox to use condoms during all sexual activity for at least 12 weeks, pursuant to guidelines from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) that were last updated June 17.

As the virus can also be spread by exposure to bedding and clothing that has been contaminated by infected persons, contact with these items should also be avoided wherever possible, Burstin said. 

“We can reduce [the risk of transmission] by behavioral means,” Burstin said. “What we have to do is to educate people so that the risk remains low to zero,” he said. “If that fails, there’s vaccination and therapy.”

Infections are currently concentrated in Europe: the U.K. has reported 524 cases, and Spain, Germany, Portugal, and France have reported 313,303, 241, and 183 cases respectively. Many of the infections in Europe and the Americas can be traced back to LGBTQ+ events where men gathered — specifically a LGBTQ+ fetish festival in Belgium and a gay pride event in the Canary Islands. 

No deaths have been reported, and most monkeypox cases are mild — symptoms include rashes, initial flu-like symptoms, and lesions or sores.

Men, particularly gay men, and men who have sex with men (MSM), have been disproportionately represented in the clusters of cases documented.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports there have been 113 confirmed cases in the U.S., of which 24 have been reported in California. Burstin said that figure is probably far lower than the number of actual cases, as the significant overlap in symptoms caused by monkeypox with those caused by other illnesses, including COVID-19, raises the likelihood of underreporting and misdiagnoses. 

Millner said it can even be easy to miss the prototypical rash that develops with monkeypox infections, which he described as a lesion or multiple lesions that usually appear on the hands, mouth, feet and genitals. These are often, and reasonably, misidentified as pimples, infected hair follicles, or – especially when located on or near the genitals – blisters caused by sexually transmitted diseases like herpes or syphilis. 

Screenshot of infected patient via AHF press conference

Burstin said that while monkeypox can, in rare cases, cause serious and even life-threatening symptoms, the disease has a low case fatality rate, around one percent. Plus, he said, the possibility that future variants may be deadlier or more contagious appears to be slim, given what epidemiologists have learned about the widely studied and now eradicated but closely related smallpox virus.  

There are vaccinations and treatments available for monkeypox, Burstin said, which are reserved for cases of serious illness and for populations deemed high-risk, which include pregnant women, young children, the elderly and the immunocompromised. 

Instead of mass vaccination campaigns, public health experts say immunizations should be administered based on assessments of patients’ risk of becoming seriously ill. For those deemed eligible, if given within the first four days after contracting the virus, vaccines can reduce the number and severity of symptoms, Burstin said.

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Monkeypox cases rise amid calls for equitable treatment & vaccine equity

2,166 cases of monkeypox have been recorded globally, spanning 37 countries, including places where it is not usually seen

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Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-general of the World Health Organization gives briefing on Monkeypox June 16, 2022 (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – As of June 16th, 2,166 cases of monkeypox have been recorded globally, spanning 37 countries, including places where it is not usually seen. The United States currently has 100 recorded cases of monkeypox — California, New York, and Illinois are hot spots with 21, 17, and 13 cases respectively. 

Infections are currently concentrated in Europe: the U.K. has reported 524 cases, and Spain, Germany, Portugal, and France have reported 313,303, 241, and 183 cases respectively. Many of the infections in Europe and the Americas can be traced back to LGBTQ+ events where men gathered — specifically a LGBTQ+ fetish festival in Belgium and a gay pride event in the Canary Islands. 

No deaths have been reported, and most monkeypox cases are mild — symptoms include rashes, initial flu-like symptoms, and lesions or sores.

According to the CDC’s latest report, most of the reported cases have occurred in men who have sex with men, but monkeypox can be transmitted to anyone who has had close skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

Although cases are currently concentrated in gay and bisexual men, Kyle Knight, senior LGBT and health researcher at Human Rights Watch, stressed the importance of managing the outbreak without stigmatizing gay men — or deepening the divide between wealthy and poor countries. 

“Whether it’s lessons drawn from HIV, Covid-19, or other public health issues, it is essential to place human rights at the center of the response to infectious disease outbreaks,” Knight said, in a statement.

In an email to the Blade, Dr. Sarah Henn, Chief Health Officer for Whitman-Walker Health, reiterated the need to spread awareness of monkeypox within the LGBTQ+ community while simultaneously eradicating stigma.

“When dealing with an outbreak of any infection it is important to recognize risk factors for infection and specific communities where the infection is being seen. This must be done without stigmatizing those affected. This is the delicate balance that public health authorities are currently trying to walk with the outbreak of monkeypox. There is nothing intrinsic to the monkeypox virus that makes it a sexually transmitted infection, but it is transmitted by close skin to skin contact with the pox lesions, which obviously sexual intimacy involves,” she said. 

“People in the queer community need to know what to look for and understand what the potential risks are to their own health. We want to empower the community to help control the outbreak and protect themselves from possible infection without creating stigma or unnecessary fear.”

In addition to its prevalence among gay and bisexual men, monkeypox has a history of unequal treatment options in poorer countries. While some wealthy countries have stockpiles of the smallpox vaccine leftover from when the disease was eradicated in the 1980s, the vaccine — which is effective against monkeypox — is currently unavailable on the entire continent of Africa, where monkeypox is an endemic disease.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization, (WHO) regional director for Africa, advocated for a unified global approach that includes vaccine equity.

“We must avoid having two different responses to monkeypox – one for Western countries which are only now experiencing significant transmission and another for Africa,” Moeti said. “We must work together and have joined-up global actions which include Africa’s experience, expertise and needs.”

In countries such as the U.S. and Canada, “ring vaccinations” are being used to prevent outbreaks, in which close contacts of infected people are given a smallpox vaccine within four days of exposure. This approach prevents serious infection and reduces the risk of further spread, but in places where smallpox vaccines are not readily available, it is not an option.

In Chicago, where the state of Illinois’s monkeypox cases are concentrated, officials are also focusing on providing information about prevention and safer sex to gay and bisexual men. With the San Francisco and New York Prides happening next weekend — the country’s two largest — the future of monkeypox outbreaks in the U.S. appears uncertain.

Guidance from the Chicago Department of Public Health encourages people attending “festivals or other summer events” to be mindful of skin-to-skin contact, get tested for monkeypox if exposed, and monitor for symptoms after exposure. Additionally, the CDPH has printed cards with links to the CDC health tips for gay and bisexual men, for organizers to hand out at events.

In Washington D.C., the outbreak is currently smaller — four cases to Chicago’s seven — but officials are still taking preventative measures to diagnose and treat the illness. 

“As of today, 4 cases of monkeypox have been diagnosed within the District of Columbia,” Dr. Henn said. “We are working closely with DC Health to screen people for monkeypox who are presenting with rashes that could possibly represent infection and have been coordinating with the city around vaccination of those who have been exposed to a diagnosed case.”

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Monkeypox outbreak, CDC asks for reaction guided by science, not stigma

CDC says cases have been identified in Massachusetts, Florida, Utah, Washington, California, Virginia and New York

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director, CDC (Screenshot/YouTube)

ATLANTA – During a press briefing Thursday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention confirmed that there are now seven states reporting active cases of infection of the Monkeypox virus.

Walensky told reporters that cases have been identified in Massachusetts, Florida, Utah, Washington, California, Virginia and New York. She added that all of the reported cases so far have been gay or bisexual men.

Samples from the nine identified cases were sent to the CDC for additional confirmatory testing and genomic investigation, she noted, and there are efforts to learn how each individual contracted the virus.

The CDC Director then called for an approach “guided by science, not by stigma.”

“This is a community that has the strength and has demonstrated the ability to address challenges to their health by focusing on compassion and science,” Walensky said in a reference to the AIDS pandemic.

“While some groups may have a greater chance of exposure right now, infectious diseases do not care about state or international borders. They’re not contained within social networks and the risk of exposure is not limited to any one particular group,” she cautioned.

Walensky implored people “to approach this outbreak without stigma and without discrimination.”

Health officials on both sides of the Atlantic are cautioning gay and bisexual men to be cautious as numbers of infections of the non-lethal monkeypox continue to climb. The outbreak according to the World Health Organization can be traced to sexual activity stemming from LGBTQ+ events, one in the Spanish in the Canary Islands and the other in Belgium.

The United Nations’ AIDS agency (UNAID) in a press release Monday decried the semingly homophobic news coverage of the recent outbreaks of monkeypox in Europe and the United States.

“Lessons from the AIDS response show that stigma and blame directed at certain groups of people can rapidly undermine outbreak response,” UNAIDS said.

Monkeypox is not usually fatal but often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions or droplets of bodily fluid from an infected person. Most people recover from the disease within several weeks without requiring hospitalization. Vaccines against smallpox, a related disease, are also effective in preventing monkeypox and some antiviral drugs are being developed.

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