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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

Battle lines drawn over proof of vax as Delta variant explodes

“A community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members”

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Graphic created by Max Huskins as adapted from Facebook Cover art by Akbar LA

SILVER LAKE- For the owners of the Akbar on the edge of Hollywood self-described as a neighborhood oasis cocktail bar and nightclub, the reality of the affect of the highly contagious and rapidly transmitted Delta variant of coronavirus forced them to require proof of vaccination against COVID.

Last week the bar notified its customers on social media and at the door that proof of vaccination and a mask are now required to gain entry into Akbar. The notification helpfully added the message that “CA.gov has launched a way of downloading your vaccination record so you have a digital copy of it on your phone – https://myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov/ -“

The bar also noted; “We will also accept your vaccination card (photo of it is acceptable) and valid ID together. We value our community health and feel we all must accept the responsibility to keep each other safe while socializing. Thank you for understanding.”

Thirty-nine miles and 43 odd minutes away in Huntington Beach in Orange County, the owner of Basilico’s Pasta e Vino posted flyers outside his business and on social media requiring proof that customers are not vaccinated.

The flyers read: “Notice: Proof of being unvaccinated required. We have zero tolerance for treasonous, anti-American stupidity. Thank you for pondering.”

KABC 7 reported, “Many people are bothered, according to reviews on Yelp. Dozens left low ratings for Basilico’s with comments like one that read: “What a slap in the face to all those who died from COVID-19.” The increased public attention led to Yelp temporarily disabling posting on the page.”

After the Los Angeles Times ran a piece on the restaurant, the owners responded on their Facebook page:

‘LOS ANGELES TIMES’ PRINTS AN ARTICLE ABOUT US, AND AGAIN HERE COME THE HATERS, AND WITH IT, THE HARASSING NON-STOP PHONE CALLS, THREATS AND HUNDREDS OF ONE STAR REVIEWS. AND GUESS WHAT? WE AT ‘BASILICO’S PASTA E VINO’ WEAR IT ALL AS A BADGE OF HONOR!ATTENTION: TINY TYRANTS, WANNABE LITTLE DICTATORS, PRO-LOCKDOWN / PRO-MASK / PRO-MANDATORY VACCINE MINI GESTAPO AMERICAN TRAITORS AND SNITCHES, AND YES ESPECIALLY ‘GAVIN PELOSI’ AND ‘STRONZO FAUCI’ … WE FEEL BLESSED TO GO INTO BATTLE AGAINST ALL OF YOU IN DEFENSE OF AMERICAN LIBERTY AND FREEDOM, SO BRING IT ON! SEE THE ARTICLE HERE:https://www.latimes.com/…/huntington-beach-restaurant…

In the past two weeks as the number of cases exploded, Los Angeles County issued a first in the nation indoor mask order for residents in an attempt to contain what one health official described as drinking from a fire house as the numbers of cases rose by nearly 2,000 per day at one point crossing over to nearly 3,000.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing increasing concern around the fast-spreading and highly contagious delta variant on Tuesday, reversed its earlier mask guidance to specifically target areas of the country with the highest levels of the coronavirus and recommended that everyone in those areas, vaccinated or not, wear a mask as the delta variant continues to spread rapidly across the U.S.

However, city and state officials realized that the co-mingling of vaccinated and non-vaccinated Californians was the primary driving factor especially the 20% of the state’s residents who have yet to take the vaccination or have refused.

On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced California is implementing a first-in-the-nation standard to require all state workers and workers in health care and high-risk congregate settings to either show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once per week.

“We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous Delta variant,” said Newsom. “As the state’s largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same.”

The new policy for state workers will take effect August 2 and testing will be phased in over the next few weeks. The new policy for health care workers and congregate facilities will take effect on August 9, and health care facilities will have until August 23 to come into full compliance.

Appearing on MSNBC and CNN, Newsom claimed that individuals who refused to take the vaccine posed a risk to the public similar to drunk driving.

“It’s like drunk drivers, you don’t have the right to go out and drink and drive and put everybody else at risk including your own life,” the governor said.

Newsom also denounced high-profile conservatives, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson. In a harsh exchange on Twitter, Newsom aggressively put down an attack by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R) a noted QAnon and conspiracy afficando:

One day after state officials announced that state and healthcare employees will soon be required to show proof that they’ve been vaccinated or must undergo regular testing for COVID-19, the City of Los Angeles will require city employees to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing for the virus.

As more bars, nightclubs, and restaurants are poised to require proof of vaccination for entry, the question has been posed as to whether that is in fact legal. According to Michele Goodwin, a professor of law at UC Irvine and director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy, in a May 25 2021 interview with CapRadio’s Sasha Hupka, also a contributor to PolitiFact California, a business has the right to refuse entry.

“If a person refuses to disclose their vaccination status, a business cannot search their pockets or vehicle for proof they are vaccinated. However, it can ask for the information to be voluntarily disclosed. If it isn’t, a business has the right to refuse entry,” Goodwin said adding; “Businesses can establish standards for entry that do not violate statutory or constitutional provisions in a state or federal law.”

“In fact, even government entities like schools and the Army have historically been able to require vaccinations based on legal precedent set by Jacobson v. Massachusetts in 1905. The case upheld the power of states and other government entities to enforce compulsory vaccinations in the interest of public health,” Hupka reported noting;

“A community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members,” Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote in the majority opinion in the case.

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Coronavirus

CDC backtracks and releases new guidance on facial masks

CDC’s mask guidance recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors when in areas with “substantial” & “high” transmission of Covid-19

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Headquarters Building and Campus in Atlanta, GA (Blade file photo)

ATLANTA – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing increasing concern around the fast-spreading and highly contagious delta variant on Tuesday, reversed its earlier mask guidance to specifically target areas of the country with the highest levels of the coronavirus and recommended that everyone in those areas, vaccinated or not, wear a mask as the delta variant continues to spread rapidly across the U.S.

“CDC recommends localities encourage universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status,” the CDC announced. “Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies are in place.”

The White House issued a statement from President Joe Biden which read in part:

“Today’s announcement by the CDC—that new research and concerns about the Delta variant leads CDC to recommend a return to masking in parts of the country—is another step on our journey to defeating this virus. I hope all Americans who live in the areas covered by the CDC guidance will follow it; I certainly will when I travel to these areas.

Today, the CDC also reaffirmed that we can safely reopen schools this fall—full time. Masking students is inconvenient, I know, but will allow them to learn and be with their classmates with the best available protection.

Most importantly, today’s announcement also makes clear that the most important protection we have against the Delta variant is to get vaccinated. Although most U.S. adults are vaccinated, too many are not. While we have seen an increase in vaccinations in recent days, we still need to do better.”

The CDC’s mask guidance that recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors when in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission of Covid-19 includes nearly two-thirds of U.S. counties.

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Coronavirus

State employees & health care workers must show proof of vaccination

Newsom blasts ‘right-wing echo chamber’ for vaccine misinformation & claimed individuals refusing the vaccine are similar to drunk drivers.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom (Blade file photo)

SACRAMENTO – As the Delta variant continues to surge driving coronavirus case numbers higher, Governor Gavin Newsom in a press conference Monday announced California is implementing a first-in-the-nation standard to require all state workers and workers in health care and high-risk congregate settings to either show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once per week.

“We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous Delta variant,” said Newsom. “As the state’s largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same. Vaccines are safe – they protect our family, those who truly can’t get vaccinated, our children and our economy. Vaccines are the way we end this pandemic.” 

The new policy for state workers will take effect August 2 and testing will be phased in over the next few weeks. The new policy for health care workers and congregate facilities will take effect on August 9, and health care facilities will have until August 23 to come into full compliance.

 

Despite California leading the nation in vaccinations, with more than 44 million doses administered and 75 percent of the eligible population having received at least one dose, . This increase is heavily due to the Delta variant, which is more contagious and kills people faster:

  • As of last week, California’s statewide case rate more than quadrupled from a low in May of 1.9 cases/100,000/day to at least 9.5 cases/100,000. 
  • The testing positivity was at a low of 0.7 percent in June, now it has risen to 5.2 percent. 
  • Hospitalizations were at a low in June of under 900, and the state numbers are now approaching 3,000. 
  • The vast majority of new cases are among the unvaccinated, with 600 percent higher case rates among the unvaccinated than for those who are vaccinated.

“California has administered more vaccines than any other state, with 75 percent of those eligible having gotten at least one dose, and we were weeks ahead of meeting President Biden’s 70 percent goal. But we must do more to fight disinformation and encourage vaccine-hesitant communities and individuals,” said California’s Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “The Delta variant is up to 60 percent more infectious than the Alpha strain but many times more infectious than the original COVID-19 strain. If you have been waiting to get vaccinated, now is the time.”  

Appearing on MSNBC, Newsom aggressively lashed out at some conservatives after being asked what the governor attributed to those 25% of Californians who remain unvaccinated. Newsom responded by saying he credited “[an] overwhelming majority of misinformation by right-wing pundits.

California to require vaccinations or frequent testing of state workers:

Appearing on MSNBC and CNN, Newsom claimed that individuals who refused to take the vaccine posed a risk to the public similar to drunk driving.

“It’s like drunk drivers, you don’t have the right to go out and drink and drive and put everybody else at risk including your own life,” the governor said.

Newsom also denounced high-profile conservatives, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson. In a harsh exchange on Twitter, Newsom aggressively put down an attack by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R) a noted QAnon and conspiracy afficando:

In addition to these new measures, the state continues its efforts to vaccinate Californians. Last week, California surpassed 2 million newly vaccinated individuals since launching its incentive program, Vax for the Win. The program increased HPI Q1 vaccinations, and increased doses administered to the Latinx population by 10 percent. It also successfully slowed the rate of decline that California was experiencing in vaccination rates.

The program’s peak showed a 33 percent increase in vaccinations, “outpacing the inoculation trends in much of the country,” including more recently a 4.4 percent increase for the week ending July 14 – a promising sign in California, as vaccination rates declined nationwide. 

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