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Wiener introduces historic bill requiring California to collect LGBTQ COVID-19 data

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Out California State Sen. Scott Wiener (Photo courtesy Wiener’s office)

(Updated) Gay New York Times columnist Frank Bruni’s May 2 interview with AIDS expert Laurie Garrett, “the prophet of this pandemic,” is shocking in its contrarian recommendations and predictions for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“[W]hat America needs most right now, she said, isn’t this drumbeat of testing, testing, testing, because there will never be enough superfast, super-reliable tests to determine on the spot who can safely enter a crowded workplace or venue, which is the scenario that some people seem to have in mind,” Bruni writes about Garrett. “America needs good information, from many rigorously designed studies, about the prevalence and deadliness of coronavirus infections in given subsets of people, so that governors and mayors can develop rules for social distancing and reopening that are sensible, sustainable and tailored to the situation at hand.”

With the extraordinary explosion of COVID-19 cases in April, more and more attention is being paid to subsets of people identified by race and ethnicity. But despite repeated pleas from elected officials, public health and community members about the high risk of possible infection, the LGBTQ community has been ignored or systematically excluded in assessments of the impact of this deadly pandemic.

That may be about to change. Late on Monday, May 5, California State Sen. Scott Wiener introduced SB 932, legislation to require the state to collect LGBTQ data during the COVID-19 crisis,  including infection, hospitalization, ICU, recovery, and mortality rates.

Though US Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius pledged to collect LGBTQ data as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2011, a directive at least Los Angeles County Public Health implemented in 2013, SB 932 “would be the first legislation of its kind to compel a state government to collect this information; currently, neither the federal government nor any of the 50 states are doing so,” says a press release from Weiner’s office. (Update: New York state ordered LGBTQ data collection in 2026 but apparently has not been doing it, according gay journalist Andy Humm.)

“There is also a longstanding history of government neglect for LGBTQ health, often with regards to a lack of data collection. The census – and many health forms – currently do not ask about sexual orientation and gender identity, which means that the LGTBQ community often suffers from a lack of resources and focus from public health infrastructure,” the release says. “This neglect is most pointedly illustrated by the federal government ignoring the HIV/AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, an epidemic of which so many members of the LGBTQ community died. President Ronald Reagan did not say the word ‘AIDS’ until 1986, after thousands had already passed away from the disease. SB 932 will ensure that public health officials will understand the impacts of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ community, and will help LGBTQ people get the resources they need.”

“We know that COVID-19 is harming the LGBTQ community, but because no data is being collected, we’re hamstrung in making the case to devote attention and resources,” says Wiener. “The history of the LGBTQ community is a history of fighting against invisibility. Without data, we quickly become an invisible community and risk being erased. California must lead and collect this critical health data.”

“This is not the first pandemic in which the federal government has ignored or erased the LGBTQ+ community, but we’re committed to making sure it’s the last. LGBTQ+ people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of disparities in health and well-being that we’ve faced for generations,” says Rick Chavez Zbur, Executive Director of Equality California, which is sponsoring the bill. “But as long as public health officials and government agencies aren’t collecting data to understand the size and scope of the impact, our community is at risk of being left out of relief efforts. It’s crucial that California meet this moment and lead the way.”

During a recent virtual Equality California town hall, Wiener acknowledged that Newsom is “drinking out of a fire hose” in trying to handle the massive problems that continue to arise around the coronavirus global pandemic. But ignoring the LGBTQ community as a subset of people will not help contain the spread.

On March 11, the National LGBT Cancer Network and GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality distributed an open letter from more than 100 organizations specifying how COVID-19 could impact LGBTQ communities with vulnerabilities and underlying medical conditions. For instance: 37% of LGBTQ adults smoke every day compared to 27% of non-LGBTQ people; 21% of LGBTQ people have asthma, compared to 14% of non-LGBTQ people.

“[W]e call on public health officials to ensure the LGBTQ community is considered and included in the public health response to COVID-19 based on potential risk factors that exist in our community,” wrote GLMA President Scott Nass, MD, MPA.

On April 10, Wiener and Assemblymember Todd Gloria, Chair and Vice-Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus respectively, sent Newsom a letter asking for LGBTQ data collection and on April 21, GLMA issued a second open letter focusing on nondiscrimination, data collection and economic harm for LGBTQ communities.

The Los Angeles Blade has been asking Newsom about LGBTQ data collection since April 14. He has responded acknowledging the AIDS epidemic, the longtime plight of homeless youth, and noting resources for emotional support and well-being on the COVID19.CA.GOV  website, including helping lines directed to LGBTQ people in distress.

As the COVID-19 crisis exploded in April, the LA Blade started asking about help for LGBTQ non-profits, which have traditionally served as safety nets for those afraid of or excluded from the healthcare system.

On Monday, May 4, before Wiener announced his new bill, LA Blade’s dedicated COVID-19 correspondent Brody Levesque again asked about LGBTQ data and help for non-profits.

Levesque: “Good afternoon, Governor.  Thank you for taking my question. I’d like to know if you had given any thought to your budgetary processes for some of the LGBTQ non-profits and organizations and the centers who help out because, as Sen. Scott Wiener had confirmed in a virtual town hall meeting a couple of weeks ago, they’re more or less facing ‘mass extinction.’

 

And to go with that — it’s been a couple of weeks since I asked you about numbers in terms of what we’re looking at with this COVID impact on the LGBTQ community.

So, if you wouldn’t mind — take a crack at those, sir, I’d appreciate it.’

 

Newsom: “Thank you. This budget is profoundly challenging. All of these requests, needs, desires — legit requests, needs, desires will be put in perspective when the numbers come out.

 

We’re going to be making some very challenging decisions. We’re also going to be protecting foundational parts of our budget. But one cannot over-promise what we’re capable of delivering.

 

Considering the magnitude — you just do the math on 4 million-plus people that have filed for unemployment insurance just since March 12th, not January 12th but since March 12th, to get a sense of the magnitude of our responsibilities to meet the needs of all of our communities.

 

But always a top priority for me and for this administration —- and I know for the legislature, is to protect the most vulnerable communities as a priority.

 

But again, we have an enormous challenge in front of us and we’ll do our best to meet the moment —- to protect some critical programs in our state to the extent possible, despite some of those challenges.

 

As it relates to the specific data, specific numbers — I don’t have them here (gestures with both fingers at his head), at least here. So, let me get back. We know where to find you.

 

I’ll ask Dr. Angell, who last answered those questions, to see if she’s updated those numbers or has been able to extract those numbers —cause once again those numbers are not readily available to the state. We sort of have to pull what information we can from local governments.

 

I’ll give you an update.”

(UPDATE: Dr. Angell did, in fact, call the California LGBT Legislative Caucus and then called LA Blade COVID-19 correspondent Brody Levesque to discuss the issue of LGBTQ data collection. We will report new information when it becomes available – KO)

After the news conference, Wiener seemed to appreciate the gesture.

“Our nonprofits help define the LGBTQ community. These organizations are critical safety nets for our community. They provide healthcare, help our vulnerable seniors and youth, provide mental health and addiction support, and house the homeless,” Wiener told the LA Blade. “These nonprofits aren’t optional: they’re part of who we are. We can’t afford to lose them and must do everything in our power to keep them intact. I look forward to working with the Governor — a longtime champion for LGBTQ people — and with my colleagues to support this key need.”

Given Newsom’s concern about the budget and the fact that Wiener’s SB 932 includes expenditure of presumably recoverable money, the bill is not a slam dunk. However, it may be the official directive needed to start collecting LGBTQ data.

Over the past month, the LA Blade has queried five Medical Examiner/Coroners offices across both Northern and Southern California, including the LA County Medical Examiner’s office, and all indicated, on background, that their investigators would be able to make a determination of sexual orientation or gender identity as a part of any final death investigation determination — if so required or requested by Public Health or other appropriate officials.

SB 932 does include the caveat that, due to any privacy concerns the data collection questions may bring up, the LGBTQ data will be anonymized, with self-reporting of sexual orientation and gender identity as only an encouraged option, not required. The five medical examiners with whom the LA Blade spoke concur that specific names and personal details would need to be kept confidential — but a number count would be possible.

Perhaps one day, being LGBTQ won’t be considered such a stigmatized demographic.

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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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