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Thank you, COVID-19 nurses!

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This could be how humanity ends: a stealth, highly contagious, mutating airborne virus wafts quickly across the land, wreaking havoc on the health, financial and social well-being of all in its path. The new plague is deliberately ignored by an incompetent leader with magical thinking who denounces the hastily erected policy firewall constructed out of science by local leaders and healthcare experts and fortified by the good grace of strangers.

The connective tissue holding the body of humanity together against the novel coronavirus and the accidental and intentional ignorance feeding it are the first responders, the nurses and doctors, the healthcare assistants, and the frontline workers ensuring the spaces people inhabit are safe.

It may be the nurses working long hours in hospitals, nursing homes, and jails who are among the most brave, battling the regular silent banality of death itself as their patients grasp for a last connection to life against the cacophony of beeping monitors. With each hand they hold, nurses face their own mortality and defend humanity against abject darkness.

Tragically, this was a preventable genocide. President Trump had been warned about the outbreak in January but dismissed the intelligence reports.

On March 3, Angelinos lined up to vote, undisturbed by reports of a new flu-like virus up north but focusing on Joe Biden’s expected blowout of the Super Tuesday election. On March 4, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a public health emergency after a 71-year old person died, calling for rigorous hand washing, social distancing and self-quarantining if feeling ill.

By May 6, two months later, there were 1.25 million confirmed U.S. cases, 73,931 deaths; 59,698 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California, with 2,439 deaths; 28,644 of those positive COVID-19 cases were in Los Angeles County, with 1,367 deaths – 58 new deaths from the day before.

Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of LA County Department of Public Health during May 5, 2020 news conference

All of these numbers are human beings. This is believed to be an undercount.

More and more, the public has become aware of the quiet courage it takes for nurses and others to venture into the dangerous unknown to fight to keep the virus from spreading.

GLMA, an organization of health professionals advancing LGBTQ equality, just launched a storytelling campaign “to spotlight the stories of LGBTQ healthcare workers on the frontlines who are sacrificing for their patients and communities during the pandemic,” GLMA executive director Hector Vargas tells the Los Angeles Blade. “The goal is to share their heroic stories in and of themselves but also as a means to educate about the need for nondiscrimination laws to protect LGBTQ healthcare providers and the entire community.”

“We know that this is a hard time for everyone, but especially healthcare workers and healthcare workers who belong to the LGBTQ+ community,” GLMA notes on their website. “With nearly half of LGBTQ+ healthcare workers living and working in states where it’s legal to be fired based on sexual orientation or gender identity, GLMA understands why it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re all safe from discrimination on the job.”

GLMA and the Williams Institute determined that 826,000 LGBT people work in the healthcare industry. The percentage of LGBT healthcare workers in states without nondiscrimination protections is 47% (or an estimated 386,000 people).

The Los Angeles Blade interviewed three gay LA-based nurses to share their experiences during this trying time.

Jay-Ar Langcay (Photo courtesy Langcay)

Jay-Ar Langcay, 36, has been a nurse for about 11 years. Since moving to LA from Hawaii in 2010, he has been working as an Emergency Nurse at LA County USC Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma hospital. He also works with the Sheriff’s Department taking care of clinically sick patients from LA County Jail.

Langcay, a COVID-19 survivor, also faced death as a child growing up in the Philippines where he contracted Dengue Fever Stage IV. He contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of March.

“I was not expecting it. I tried my best protecting myself,” he tells the Los Angeles Blade. “The first week was fine — sore throat, fever, headache, body-aches, and loss of sense of taste. The second week added cough, diarrhea and fatigue. The third week, I developed shortness of breath and blood in my sputum. I could hear my lungs gurgling and I couldn’t sleep on my back or sideways. I managed to sleep sitting up and sometimes in a prone position. I was really scared when my color became bright red.

“I got the result of my test on the second week and really got scared, depressed and cried every night while Facetiming my family in Hawaii,” he continues. “I was scared to die alone in my apartment. I always thought, ‘what if I don’t wake up in the morning,’ so I kept my phone beside me all the time. My family’s prayers comforted me all thorough out and my faith got stronger day by day.

“I’ve seen my previous patients who contracted COVID distraught and emotional, on top of all the symptoms they were having and I told them about my story,” Langcay says. “I feel their emotions and uncertainties as I’ve felt before and I know it gives them a little hope and faith that they can survive, as well.”

As of May 6, 168,000 people have survived COVID-19.

Langcay says he experienced different stages, facing his own mortality.

“I felt anxious and depressed experiencing COVID but knowing I’m a healthy person was my key to keeping my hopes high in surviving it,” he says. “But still, seeing and reading the news about the numbers of people who succumbed to the disease made me accept my destiny. Now I say, ‘If it’s my time, it’s my time.’ It’s inevitable.

“I thought of all the good things I’ve done to others — I thought of the bad ones, as well,” he says. “And I thought of ‘what if I only given a second life and this is it.’ But I also thought of my family and friends and they are not ready to let me go.”

Finally, Langcay says, confronting his own mortality “made me think of what my real purpose in life is and if I already served my purpose here on earth. Recognizing and accepting my impending mortality in a way gave me the strength and faith to overcome COVID-19.”

Harold Sarmiento (Photo courtesy Sarmiento)

Harold Sarmiento is an infectious disease nurse practitioner at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. He is also an assistant clinical professor and preceptor for advanced practice nursing students at California State University and UCLA School of Nursing where in 2016 he earned an MSN and is now a doctoral student. Sarmiento was an adult-gerontology primary care/HIV nurse practitioner at AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Beverly Hills and before that, worked as a critical care RN at Keck Medicine of USC and USC Medical Center.

“When I was growing up, my mother, who is a retired midwife, used to take me with her to work at the community health center. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I’d accompany her while she helped pregnant women deliver their babies at their own homes,” Sarmiento tells the LA Blade. “I also had a younger brother who suffered from cerebral palsy. I was helping my family care for him at home when I was not in school – at night and during the weekends. Unfortunately, he passed away at the age of 5. These experiences fueled me to get into this field.”

Sarmiento is particularly sensitive to being a gay nurse. “Being a first-generation immigrant and a member of the LGBTQ community myself, I can relate to my patients’ struggles – lack of compassionate, culturally sensitive care from their healthcare providers, stigma and discrimination from the society, lack of access to healthcare insurance, cultural and language barriers, lack of education, poverty, homelessness, mental issues, substance abuse, etc,” he says. “Seeing and caring for the LGBTQ population opened-up my eyes to the disparities in our health care system. It breaks my heart to see how the LGBTQ community is disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, even these days. I am here, trying to make an impact on the lives of my own community.”

He has seen how COVID-19 has caused a “spike in fear and stigma” that feels familiar to people living with HIV/AIDS.

“Although we don’t have enough information if people with HIV have higher risk of contracting COVID-19, we know that patients with HIV who are immunocompromised (those with low CD4 cell count), patients who are not on antiretroviral medications and older patients with other underlying medical conditions, have higher risk of getting very sick with COVID-19,” Sarmiento says.

“It has been very challenging lately. My patients are scared to go to the clinic for their follow up, to get their lab works done or even to pick up their medications at the pharmacy,” he says. “I totally understand — they don’t want to contract coronavirus and we want to protect them from potential harm, as well. So, for almost two months now, we’ve been using telemedicine in our clinic. We also provide them an extra supply of their medications, as well, free delivery.”

Sarmiento is in charge of the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) program and has noticed some patients are taking a break.

“Their fear of contracting COVID-19 has lessened their sexual activity,” he says. “Fewer people are hooking up because of the ‘Stay at Home’ orders. People are quarantined and staying at home with their partners, thus they have more time to be intimate and have sex.”

However, “despite social distancing, there are still people who are contracting HIV and STDs. And unfortunately, a rising number of my patients have lost their jobs due to the crisis. They have also lost their health insurance, adding even more stress,” he says.

“As COVID-19 spreads, it exposed not only the challenges in our healthcare system but also the inequity especially among us – the underserved, marginalized members of our community,” Sarmiento says. “As an LGBTQ+ community, let us not be further stigmatized by COVID-19. Please help raise awareness without increasing fear by sharing accurate evidence-based information. Let science guide us. Please practice social distancing, wear a mask and wash your hands often. Spread love, kindness and help each other during this very difficult time.”

Santiago Mandi (Photo courtesy Mandi)

Nursing runs in Santiago Mandi’s family. “I knew that my mother found joy in her occupation so when I was young, I believed that nursing was a great career. It wasn’t until I began to volunteer at the hospital in Seattle, Washington that I knew it was what I wanted to do,” Mandi, 38, tells the LA Blade. He graduated from nursing school in 2004 and has worked at hospitals in St. Louis, New York City, Boston, and now Los Angeles, where he’s lived for seven years.

“I am employed at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center in the Coronary Care Unit, Cardiac Intensive Care,” he says. “The pandemic has quickly changed the processes the hospital has implemented when admitting patients into the hospital and how procedures are done. The staff is regularly updated on policy changes when it comes to caring for patients with COVID-19 and how healthcare workers protect themselves.”

“When patients come into the Emergency Room, they are automatically tested for COVID-19,” he continues. “It’s been taking only a few hours for the results to come back. All patients going for surgery are retested for COVID-19. If there is a suspicion a patient has contracted COVID-19, staff members have clear protocols on what steps need to be taken.”

Mandi says there have been many changes since March on how to handle patients with COVID-19, “but that’s expected since the CDC’s guidelines to properly take care of these patients has been evolving.Thankfully UCLA has been quick to adapt to the latest guidelines recommended by the CDC.”

“Currently we have enough supplies to protect ourselves,” he says. “Supplies have definitely become limited and rationed strategically, but if I need a mask or a gown to wear over my scrubs when I enter a room of a patient who is being tested for COVID-19, the hospital provides me with what is needed. Every day I enter the hospital, my temperature is checked and I am given a basic surgical mask since the hospital has employees wearing masks throughout the hospital. If, for some reason, my mask needs changing, I know I can get a replacement without difficulties.”

However, Mandi says, “I do hear of other hospitals that do not have this luxury and it’s frightening. I can’t imagine taking care of a patient with COVID-19 and not having the necessary supplies that is needed to protect yourself. I know that I am lucky to be working at UCLA, which has more resources than many healthcare facilities in the neighborhood. UCLA Medical Center has been preparing for the surge that thankfully has not yet happened due to the hard work of everyone in the city.”

Mandi echoes signs held by healthcare workers begging community members to try to stop the novel coronavirus pandemic by please following guidelines for everyone’s safety, especially as cities in LA County start to slowly re-open.

“I hope the LGBTQ community can continue social distancing and regular hand washing as we move forward and lift the city’s restrictions,” Mandi says. “As the weather gets warmer, the community will be out and about enjoying sunshine and take part in more gatherings. But we need to continue to be mindful that COVID-19 is still around and can still transmitted to one another.”

Testing for COVID-19 is increasingly becoming available, so if you think you have symptoms or want to be tested for peace of mind, visit https://covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/.

In recognition of National Nurses Day on May 6, California State Sen. Scott Wiener, chair of the LGBT Legislative Caucus, and others issued statements of gratitude.

“Thank you to our amazing healthcare workers, who are on the front lines of our fight against COVID-19. We are so incredibly grateful for your efforts and sacrifice, and you are a key reason we are getting through this pandemic,” Wiener said in a statement to the LA Blade. “Thank you for taking such good care of those in the LGBTQ community who may have some reservations about entering the healthcare system. We appreciate you and will never forget the sacrifices you’ve made.”

“Nurses, along with other health workers, are on the front line, battling the deadly virus each day.  We thank for them for their heroic efforts and for continuing to care for people living with HIV,” says the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV.

“APLA Health was founded to fight a deadly virus and today we see ourselves out in front combatting another,” said Craig E. Thompson, CEO of APLA Health. “The dedicated staff at all of our health centers have stepped up to the challenges that COVID-19 has presented us and I am immensely proud of all the hard work they have put in during the last few months. They have put in long hours, adopted new technologies and continually been there to provide the essential services our community relies on to stay healthy and well. Our frontline staff have and will always be integral in the care of our community.”

Nurses and all other front line workers at the [Los Angeles LGBT] Center and similar organizations have been providing critical and life-saving services for decades as we have navigated the HIV/AIDS pandemic and now Covid-19. Throughout, they have been courageous and compassionate, even in the face of personal danger and tremendous loss. The world is now seeing the true value of all those who come to work every day, from medical professionals to grocery store clerks, to help us all get through this new reality.  They are all to be commended, valued, and made visible on this National Nurses Day,” says Darrel Cummings, Chief of Staff, Los Angeles LGBT Center.  

“In ordinary times, the nearly four-hundred nurses and related nursing staff working for AHF in our healthcare centers both here and around the world as well as those nurses working as case managers for us serve as a linchpin and lifeline in the delivery of lifesaving care for our patients. Each deserves our profound recognition and thanks—not only on National Nurses Day—but every day that they step forward to fulfill their duties,” said AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein. “And today, even more so, during these times of heightened anxiety and both profound and routine medical need amid the coronavirus pandemic. On behalf of all of AHF, I could not be more proud to see how these professionals have risen to the challenge or more thankful for the dedication these exceptional care providers continue to demonstrate in measures large and small each day.”

Our siblings who are part of our LGBTQ community and who are not often recognized, The [email protected] Coalition wants to acknowledge your existence and dedication to support all people in need. We also want to specially appreciate all of those health care workers who we partner with and those who are warriors on behalf of Trans, Gender Non-Conforming and Intersex (TGI) people. Thank you for helping us live and survive through this horrible global pandemic and always. Much love and appreciation,” Bamby Salcedo, President/CEO, The [email protected] Coalition.  

“Team APAIT sends big virtual hugs and thumbs up to all first responders and essential workers for keeping our communities safe,” says Jury Candelario, MSW, APAIT.

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California unveils digital COVID-19 vaccination records

Californians will enter into a state-owned website their name, date of birth and email or phone associated with their vaccine records

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

SACRAMENTO – Officials announced Friday that the state is providing Californians with a newly created way to access their coronavirus vaccination records in a digital format.

Dr. Erica Pan, the state’s epidemiologist told reporters the new tool allows residents access to their COVID-19 vaccination records from the state’s immunization registry and includes the same information as the paper cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To access the information, Californians will enter into a state-owned website their name, date of birth and email or phone associated with their vaccine records and they will be asked to create a four-digit PIN. The record will include a QR code that users can save to their mobile phones.

With nearly 20 million people fully vaccinated in California and proof of vaccination already required in some circumstances such as travel, state health officials felt there would be demand for the tool, though it remains optional, Pan noted.

“The odds are someone is going to misplace their paper CDC card and a digital COVID-19 vaccine record provides a convenient backup,” she told reporters.

 Amy Tong, director of the state’s department of technology told reporters that businesses that use a QR scanner would see the same information as residents — their name, birthdates and vaccination details, she said. She added that businesses would not be able to store that data for future use.

The system is accessible through myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov. Governor Gavin Newsom has said the digital version wouldn’t be a “passport” or a requirement.

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LA Public Health emphasizes vaccinations as pandemic guidelines relax

The County will also follow the State on lifting current travel restrictions on June 15 to align with CDC travel recommendations

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – On June 15, the state of California will be lifting most capacity limits and distancing restrictions at businesses, and Los Angeles County will align with the State in order to allow businesses to fully re-open. Specific requirements will continue for large capacity events, schools, day cares, day camps, high-risk congregant settings and health care facilities.

The County remains in the least restrictive yellow tier in the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework.

The County will also follow the State on lifting current travel restrictions on June 15 to align with CDC travel recommendations. Businesses must comply with all Cal/OSHA requirements at worksites past the June 15 reopening.

Tuesday, the State released the final blueprint tier numbers before the Blueprint for a Safer Economy program is retired next week; L.A. County’s adjusted case rate remains at 0.7 new cases per 100,000 people, and the overall test positivity rate remains at 0.4% across the county and in areas with the fewest health affirming resources.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will host a Virtual Town Hall on Reopening on Thursday, June 10, at 6:00 p.m. Join the town hall to get the latest updates on the June 15 reopening of Los Angeles County. The town hall will be streamed live on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube @lapublichealth. For more information and to submit a question, visit: tinyurl.com/AskReopeningTownHall

Public Health confirmed 13 new deaths and 186 new cases of COVID-19. Of the 13 new deaths reported Tuesday, three people that passed away were over the age of 80, six people who died were between the ages of 65 and 79 and four people who died were between the ages of 50 and 64.

To date, Public Health identified 1,245,412 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County and a total of 24,404 deaths. There are 232 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized and 16% of these people are in the ICU.

“As California reopens and most physical distancing requirements and capacity limits are lifted a week from today, it’s very important that those not vaccinated continue to take precautions,” said Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health.

“While we are making great progress with vaccinations in the County with 54% of L.A. County residents 16 and over fully vaccinated and 65 percent having received one dose of the vaccine, there are millions of residents who do not have protection from COVID-19. For those not yet vaccinated, and the over 1.3 million children under 12 years old, wearing a face covering remains important for preventing transmission.”

Free COVID-19 vaccines are available for everyone age 12 and older. You do not need to have health insurance and you will not be asked about your immigration status. Vaccines are offered at hundreds of locations across L.A. County. These include clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, places of worship, and mobile clinics. Many sites are open late and on weekends and no appointment needed at many locations.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment, connecting to free transportation to and from a vaccination site, or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

With 12-17 year olds now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, providing accurate and important information to teens is critical. Public Health participated in a COVID Vaccine Teen Forum and helped answer some of the most popular questions from Los Angeles County teens themselves, ranging from vaccine safety to how they can talk to their parents about getting the vaccine. The forum can be seen at the following link: https://youtu.be/U7U5VnckkP0.

Through Thursday, June 10, everyone 18 and older coming to get their first vaccine or who brings a first-time vaccine recipient with them to their second dose appointment at County-run vaccination sites, L.A. City and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center sites, will have an opportunity to win a pair of season tickets to the 2021-2022 home season of either the LA Football Club soccer team or the LA Dodgers. Official rules and participating site locations can be found on the Los Angeles County Vaccination Sweepstakes page online.

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Newsom; “Vax for the Win” and LA sports teams also enter vax push

The incentives aim to give an extra nudge to those who still need to get vaccinated, especially in hard-to-reach communities

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California Governor Gavin Newsom appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live Thursday (Screenshot via YouTube)

SACRAMENTO – California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a multi-million dollar vaccine incentive program Thursday to motivate more people to get vaccinated leading up to June 15, when the state economy is slated to fully reopen. The $116.5 million vaccine incentive program is the largest in the nation to boost vaccinations as the state prepares to fully reopen the economy June 15.

The incentives aim to give an extra nudge to those who still need to get vaccinated against COVID-19, especially those in hard-to-reach communities, while also thanking everyone who has already been vaccinated.

More than 62.8 percent of Californians aged 12+ are at least partially vaccinated, but an estimated 12 million people who are eligible still have not gotten a vaccine to protect their health and the well-being of their communities.

“Getting every eligible Californian vaccinated is how we bring our state roaring back from this pandemic,” said the Governor. “California has already made incredible progress in the fight against COVID-19, with the lowest case rates in the country, while administering millions more vaccines than any other state. But we aren’t stopping there, we’re doing everything it takes to get Californians vaccinated as we approach June 15 to help us fully reopen safely.”

California residents who have been vaccinated are already entered for cash prizes, and those who haven’t been can get inoculated for the chance to receive a $50 card and win cash prizes. “You don’t have to register to do this as is the case in other states,” Newsom said. “You’re automatically registered.”

Beginning on May 27, the next two million people who begin and complete their COVID-19 vaccination will automatically be eligible to receive a $50 prepaid or grocery card, worth a total of $100 million. It gives them the option to select from a $50 Virtual Prepaid Card (which can be spent online, in-store where major debit cards are accepted, or added to a mobile wallet to be used to shop in stores that accept mobile wallets), or a $50 grocery gift card from Kroger (which includes Ralphs, Food 4 Less and Foods Co.) or Albertsons (which includes Safeway, Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions and Andronico’s Community Markets), while supplies last.

Californians will receive a text message with an electronic prepaid card redemption code sent to their mobile phone or email address 7-10 days after their two-dose series of Pfizer or Moderna, or single dose of Johnson and Johnson. An incentive card will be held for those who start their vaccination at the launch of the program.

Those who do not have a mobile phone or email address can receive a physical card by calling 1-833-993-3873, 7-10 days after receiving their final dose. Those without a permanent address can also call to coordinate delivery.

For more information, visit COVID19.ca.gov/vax-for-the-win. To schedule an appointment to be vaccinated, visit MyTurn.ca.gov or call the CA COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-422-4255.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Launches Vaccination Sweepstakes with Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Galaxy

In Los Angeles County, starting tomorrow, Friday, May 28, two Los Angeles County residents 18 and older who get their first vaccine or bring a person needing their first vaccine to their second dose appointment can enter to win a pair (2) of 2021-22 season tickets to the Los Angeles Kings or 2022 season tickets to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The vaccination sweepstakes will run from Friday, May 28 to Thursday, June 3. Two residents will be awarded prizes.

Residents can book appointments or walk in to County, LA City, and St. John’s Well Child and Family clinic vaccination sites to enter.

For more information, including official rules and participating site locations, residents can visit the Los Angeles County Vaccination Sweepstakes page at: www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/vaccine/sweepstakes.htm

Must be a Los Angeles County resident 18 years or older to enter.

Related: Jimmy Kimmel- ‘GOP Throws Out MyPillow Mike, Trump’s Crazy Memorial Day Message & Governor Gavin Newsom Sneaks In’

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