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LA County GOP Board chair: LGBTQs are a demographic, need for data collection

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(UPDATED) Los Angeles County may have just opened the door to better government policy and resources for the LGBTQ community. During the regular Public Health afternoon news conference updating the public on the COVID-19 crisis Friday, June 19, LA County Board of Supervisors Chair Kathryn Barger noted that the County Public Health Department has added sexual orientation and gender identity questions (SOGI) to their testing questionnaire, a move she helped put into effect Thursday, working with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Equality California.

“LGBT people experience disproportionate rates of underlying illness, poverty, homelessness and discrimination,” Kuehl said in a statement to the Los Angeles Blade Thursday. “That’s why it’s so important that we capture sexual orientation and gender identity information as people get tested for COVID-19. Knowing how COVID-19 is affecting LGBT populations will allow us to appropriately allocate resources and address needs within the community. I’m very grateful to the many people in government and local nonprofits who worked quickly to make sure we could start this data collection as quickly as possible.”

“I completely support really looking at the numbers and allowing us to get a better feel in terms of the COVID crisis and what it’s doing to the LGBTQ community,” Barger said in response to a question from the Los Angeles Blade at the Friday news conference. “I’m also in support of Sen. Wiener’s bill [SB 932 COVID-19 data collection] that is moving forward, as well.”

But Barger went one significant step further – acknowledging what almost every politician and campaign director asking for money, votes and volunteers knows – that LGBTQ people are a real demographic, a distinct minority, a people with a culture and history, rather than an odd collection of individuals whose only shared characteristic is a casual sexual attraction to others of their own gender.

After the LA Blade pointed out that the Williams Institute estimates 1.7 million LGBT adults live in California, almost a half million of whom live in LA County, Barger said, “Yeah, I think that in this county, we recognize that we are moving in a way that we have to be more cognizant of all demographics, so obviously this board is committed across the board.”

Barger, a Republican, said she and Kuehl, a Democrat, have “asked for the testing and a break down on the testing to be done for the LGBTQ community and we are adding questions.”

After announcing that Public Health has identified 79,609 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of LA County, and a total of 3,063 deaths, Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of Public Health, posted graphics and explained the demographic breakdown of those who’ve died, 93 percent of whom had underlying health conditions.

“Of those who died, information about race and ethnicity is available for 2,844 people (99 percent of the cases reported by Public Health),” she said. “42% of deaths occurred among Latino/Latinx residents, 29% among White residents, 17% among Asian residents, 11% among African American residents, less than 1% among Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander residents and 1% among residents identifying with other races.”

Ferrer noted that the LA Blade’s question was “important,” as was the Supervisors’ leadership on the issue.

“The big issue has been making sure we’re collecting that information in lots of different ways and we’re collecting it in ways that are appropriate and feel culturally acceptable to people so they feel safe enough to answer,” said Ferrer. “So, I do know, across the board, we are making efforts to improve our data collection system so that we’re actually able to more accurately reflect information about sexual orientation.”

Once the department has better information,” Ferrer said, “it’s demographic information that we need to be able to share. We have other information that shows elevated levels of risk for other diseases – and also – for stigma, for being stigmatized and discriminated against. So, in this fight for equity, we really do need to make sure that we have the kind of information that helps us better understand everyone’s experiences and then use that information to make the changes we need.”

The SOGI questions are included on the County’s COVID-19 portal, where the testing sign up site includes demographics on its questionnaire. After at least  one week of LGBTQ data collection, the testing data will be regularly posted on the county’s website.

The significance of LA County – with a population of more than 10 million  – taking a lead on recognizing the LGBTQ community as a distinct demographic, acknowledging the importance of collecting LGBTQ data to better understand the COVID-19 crisis in this sprawling region, and including LGBTQ on the graphics along side racial minorities – is a very big deal.

The city of Washington DC is the only other governmental body that officially collects LGBTQ data and applies that data to policies and resources.

But the issue is national. On May 13, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the state  Dept. of Health would start collecting SOGI data, including “conducting extensive case histories investigations as part of contract tracing on those who test positive for the virus,” according to a press release from Wolf’s office. The department is working with Sara Alert, a new data collection platform and has requested a system modification to include SOGI data. However, as of June 20, it does not appear on the state’s COVID-19 website that SOGI data has yet been collected.

“The fact Wolf has given the OK to collect this data is a huge deal for the LGBTQ community,” says Erin Cross, director, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Center at Penn, told Penn Today in a June 18 story. “Unless we know the dimensions and the number of people we need to be cognizant about, we will always just be guessing,” she says. “So it’s good to have hard data to support our programs and goals,” noting especially the “most high at risk population” are the elderly in the LGBT community. 

Dennis Flores, an assistant professor at the School of Nursing, who specializes in HIV/STI prevention, concurs. “If there was no accounting for how many folks from the LGBTQ community would test positive or if we didn’t have details of the data, we wouldn’t be able to create programming that would be tailored to the specific means and needs of this community,” he tells Penn Today. “We would be assumed under the general public, and that would mean we could lose important details that might be beneficial in ensuring that we have success in the outcome we want to achieve.”

“Our city [Philadelphia] is one of the largest poor cities in the United States,” Flores adds, “and so we know that health outcomes are direr within the African-American communities. We know that it is more pronounced in lower economic status communities. Thus, as LGBTQ individuals, we have intersectional identities where we might belong to two or three of these marginalized groups. With that, it compounds the risk factors, potentially being exposed to the virus, or our success in combatting the virus and making sure we stay healthy if we do contract the disease.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Just before the 2016 election, LGBTQ people were on the cusp of being recognized and counted by the federal government as a specific demographic. During the Obama Administration, the Departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Environmental Protection Agency asked the Census Bureau to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to the American Community Survey, according to a July 2017 report by NPR.

California Reps. Adam Schiff and Jimmy Panetta co-sponsored an amendment to a spending bill that would give the Census Bureau more money to study the need for sexual orientation and gender identity questions. Out Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva reintroduced bills in Congress — the LGBT Data Inclusion Act — that would require the American Community Survey, the census and other federal surveys that collected  demographic information to also collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), just like other demographics.

“The Justice Department laid out the ‘legal authority supporting the necessity’ for collecting that information in a spreadsheet of statutes attached to its letter to the Census Bureau dated Nov. 4, 2016,” NPR reported.

But with the advent of the Trump Administration, anything Obama-approved got scotched. A draft report of Census Bureau’s planned topics of questions for the 2020 census and the American Community Survey was submitted missing a page.

But NPR “obtained a copy of a draft version of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Census Bureau. The draft includes a full page about sexual orientation and gender identity as a proposed topic. That page was removed from the published report. The page provides an explanation about how the statistics could be used by the federal government:

“Sexual orientation and gender identity questions are being evaluated and may be proposed to aid in planning and funding government programs and in evaluating other government programs and policies to ensure they fairly and equitably serve the needs of all people. These statistics could also be used to enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination in society.”

Sens. Tom Carper and Kamala Harris of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — which has oversight of the Census Bureau — sent a letter to the then-Census director about the missing page – but apparently they did not hear back.

The Trump Administration has been on an LGBTQ erasure kick since his election, perhaps the most glaring of which is the ban on open trans military service.

LA County, the most populous county in the country, could show the need for and become a model of LGBTQ data collection for other counties, building momentum to pass legislation, including the federal Equality Act.

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David speaks at the House Financial Services Committee hearing on Oct. 29 on anti-LGBT bias in housing and credit. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade reported on the importance of data during an Oct 2019 congressional hearing:

“Among the key statistics that emerged in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee: About half of LGBT adults own their homes compared to 70 percent of the non-LGBT adult population; LGBT adults are twice as likely as non-LGBT people to report having been prevented by a landlord or owner from moving into a home; and same-sex couples experience about three to eight percent lower approval rates in acquiring a loan than different-sex couples.

 

Chairing the hearing was Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who touted the importance of that data in laying out the case anti-LGBT discrimination persists despite claims to the contrary.

 

“Today we have demonstrated with empirical evidence that this level of invidious discrimination exists, such that it is quite harmful not only to the persons who have been discriminated against, but also to the country,” Green said….

 

“Our community faces discrimination and rejection in every area of life — at school at work and at home,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. “Distressingly, the weight of this discrimination falls disproportionately on the shoulders of LGBT people who are racial minorities, specifically black and brown members of our community.”

On Friday, June 19, LA County moved one step closer to establishing equity for a heretofore unrecognized intersectional demographic – the LGBTQ community. And at the very least, with that comes better health, wellness and awareness of protecting oneself and others from the COVID-19 crisis.

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Coronavirus

Spread of COVID escalates to 2K a day, Masking order in effect Saturday

The urgency to get more people vaccinated remains high with this level of spread. For everyone whose eligible the time do it is now.

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health continues to see alarming trends of increased community spread as Public Health confirms 1,902 new cases of COVID-19 Friday.

As of July 9, 2021, the 7-day daily average case rate is 8.2 per 100,000, up from 7.1, indicating sustained and increased community transmission. This number will continue to increase with each day that the number of cases reported is higher the previous day.

Cases are highest and rising the fastest in adults age 18 to 49 years old.  Of the new cases reported by Public Health today, 71% are among adults 18 to 49 years old.

Today’s test positivity rate is 3.8%.  In early-June, test positivity was near 0.4%.

Public Health strongly urges those that are eligible and not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated now.  Being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 lowers your risk of infection, and more significantly lowers your chance of being hospitalized or dying if you do get infected. The risk of increased spread is highest among individuals that remain unvaccinated. The more COVID-19 spreads, the more opportunities it has to mutate – and the more COVID-19 mutates, the greater the chance there may be another variant that can spread even more quickly or cause more harm to the people it infects.

Wearing a mask when indoors reduces the risk of both getting and transmitting the virus. The Los Angeles County Health Officer Order has been modified to require masking for everyone while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Despite the very low percentage of fully vaccinated people that have gotten infected since vaccinations started in December 2020, a total of 4,122 cases out of 4,769,828 fully vaccinated people (~0.09%) have been reported, as of July 13, 2021. While this is a small percentage, it is not an insignificant number in light of Los Angeles County’s current substantial and increasing community transmission. It demonstrates that even with highly effective vaccines, there is still potential for breakthrough infections that can put everyone at risk – including those who are unable to be vaccinated. So, masking by all indoors can reduce everyone’s risk of infection and the risk of transmission to others if infected.

The modified Order has been issued today and will take effect on Saturday, July 17 at 11:59 p.m. Some exceptions will apply, similar to masking requirements that were in place prior to the June 15 reopening.

To date, Public Health identified 1,264,450 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County and a total of 24,568 deaths. Of the six new deaths reported today, one person that passed away was over the age of 80, one person who passed was between the ages of 65 and 79, two people who passed were between the ages of 50 and 64 and, one person who passed was between the ages of 30 and 49. One death was reported by the City of Long Beach. Testing results are available for more than 7,155,000 individuals with 16% of people testing positive.

“We thank the millions of residents that are vaccinated and the schools and businesses that continue to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. We have all seen COVID-19 spread very fast in just a small amount time.  The alarming increases in cases, positivity rates and the increase in hospitalizations signals immediate action must be taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. Otherwise, we may quickly see more devastating illness and death among the millions of residents,”

“We thank the millions of residents that are vaccinated and the schools and businesses that continue to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. We have all seen COVID-19 spread very fast in just a small amount time.  The alarming increases in cases, positivity rates and the increase in hospitalizations signals immediate action must be taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. Otherwise, we may quickly see more devastating illness and death among the millions of residents,” said Muntu Davis, MD, Los Angeles County Health Officer.

“Without physical distancing and capacity limits during a time of substantial community spread, masking by everyone indoors is a simple and effective action we all can take to lower risk of transmission while limiting disruption to normal business capacity and operations. The urgency to get more people vaccinated remains high with this level of spread. For everyone whose eligible and still waiting to get vaccinated, the time do it is now,” he added

Without physical distancing and capacity limits during a time of substantial community spread, masking by everyone indoors is a simple and effective action we all can take to lower risk of transmission while limiting disruption to normal business capacity and operations. The urgency to get more people vaccinated remains high with this level of spread. For everyone whose eligible and still waiting to get vaccinated, the time do it is now.”

Anyone 12 and older living or working in L.A. County can get vaccinated against COVID-19. To make it as easy as possible for eligible L.A. County residents to get vaccinated, L.A. County continues to offer vaccines at many different sites across the county. This week, there are 771 sites offering vaccinations including pharmacies, clinics, community sites, and hospitals and 286 sites where mobile teams will be offering vaccinations, which are concentrated in higher-need, harder hit areas. You can obtain vaccines at County-run sites, all the LA city-run sites, almost all mobile sites, and many community sites without an appointment. Many sites are open on weekends and have evening hours.

Beginning today, Friday, July 17 through next Thursday, July 22 at County-run vaccination sites, LA City sites, and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center sites, everyone 18 and older coming to get a vaccine will have an opportunity to win one of seven packages of tickets to family fun at the Staples Center, including performances by the Harlem Globetrotters, Disney on Ice, and the Gold Over America tour starring Simone Biles.

To find a vaccination site near you, 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.

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Coronavirus

Masks will be required indoors regardless of vaccination status

The new masking order goes into effect 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, July 17.

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – All County residents regardless of vaccination status will be required to wear masks in indoor public settings as COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated have risen to alarming levels, LA County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said Thursday.

The new masking order goes into effect 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, July 17.

“We’re not where we need to be for the millions at risk of infection here in Los Angeles County, and waiting to do something will be too late, given what we’re seeing,” Davis said. The county recorded 1,537 new coronavirus cases Thursday, a 83% increase over the last week, according to the LA County Department of Health.

In a related story the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday afternoon that the University of California has announced that COVID-19 vaccinations will be required before the fall term begins for all students, faculty and staff, becoming the nation’s largest public university system to mandate the vaccines even though the shots don’t yet have full federal approval.

As the highly contagious Delta variant spreads amid lower vaccination rates among younger people, unvaccinated students without approved exemptions will be barred from in-person classes, events and campus facilities, including housing.

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Coronavirus

LA County- 5th day of 1K+ new COVID19 cases, Delta variant increases

The COVID-19 vaccines are the most powerful tool to reduce the risk of serious illness if infected Public Health says

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 1,103 new cases of the coronavirus Tuesday which marked the fifth straight day of more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases. “One month ago, on June 13, the five-day average of cases was 201 and today the five-day average is 1,095,” Public Health said in a statement. “This is an increase of more than 500% in just one month.”

More worrisome officials said was that the test positivity rate has increased nearly 700% from the 0.5% seen a month ago; Tuesday’s test positivity rate was 3.4%. The statewide seven-day positivity rate is 2.7%, which is 50% higher than a week ago and at the highest point since late February, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.

Both state and local health officials expected a jump in cases when capacity limits were lifted for businesses and most mask restrictions and social distancing requirements were eliminated for vaccinated people in mid-June.

A major concern right now is Delta, a highly contagious strain which was first identified in India last December. It then swept rapidly through that country and Great Britain as well. The first Delta case in the United States was diagnosed a couple of months ago (in March) and it is now the dominant strain in all 50 states, hitting hardest where vaccination rates are low.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) shows that the Delta variant is the cause more than half of all new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and it is now the leading cause of coronavirus related deaths among those who are unvaccinated.

“The COVID-19 vaccines are the most powerful tool to reduce the risk of serious illness if infected. A significant number of unvaccinated people indoors, with a highly contagious Delta variant circulating, makes it easy for this variant to be transmitted at higher rates,” said Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health. If you are not fully vaccinated yet, wear your mask in all indoor public settings and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently when outside your home. Get vaccinated without delay to have the best protection.” 

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