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Coronavirus

California commences LGBTQI+ specific data collection for COVID-19 & all other reportable diseases

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Dr. Mark Ghaly                                      Screenshot via SCVTV Santa Clarita Valley public television

SACRAMENTO – Speaking to reporters Tuesday during a noon press briefing, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced that under new emergency regulations the state would immediately begin collecting sexual orientation & gender identity (SOGI) data on COVID-19 as well as “all other reportable diseases.”

Dr. Ghaly noted that by requiring healthcare providers and local health departments to collect and report voluntary data on the gender identity and sexual orientation of patients, it will allow the state’s public health officials to gain a better understanding on how the LGBTQI+ community is being impacted by COVID-19 as well as other potential future outbreaks.

Dr. Ghaly thanked lawmakers from the California LGBTQ legislative caucus, specifically State Sen. Scott Weiner, (D-SF), who had assisted in authoring and guiding Senate Bill 932, which specifically requires the state to collect data on the impact of COVID-19 and approximately 90 other reportable communicable diseases.

He also thanked LGBTQI+ advocacy group Equality California and others for their contributions to the effort to make this data collection a statewide mandate.

The LGBTQ community has suffered a long history of government neglect when it comes to our healthcare system. I want to thank the state for listening to the LGBTQ community – namely, LGBTQ advocates and the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus – and responding by enabling this data collection moving forward. It’s a deeply important and promising first step and I am grateful for Governor Newsom’s leadership and allyship,” Weiner said in a written statement.

This is just the beginning. SB 932 is more important than ever because we must codify this change into law. This data collection, not just for COVID-19 but for all reportable communicable diseases, is essential to ensure that our community gets the resources it needs moving forward. We can’t keep leaving the LGTBQ behind when it comes to public health. California can and should lead the way in giving the LGTBQ community the health justice it deserves,” he added.

Senate Bill 932 which passed the State Senate unanimously on June 25, 2020, is currently in the Assembly Committee on Health, where it is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, August 4. If passed and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, the bill would take effect immediately. The bill is co-authored by all members of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, as well as Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), and co-sponsored by Equality California and the California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network.

“The COVID-19 crisis has devastated the LGBTQ+ community. But for months, we haven’t had the data to understand how, why or exactly what to do about it. From the beginning of this crisis, we have been clear: If LGBTQ+ people are left out of COVID-19 data, we will be left out of California’s data-driven response. Thanks to Governor Newsom’s leadership and his administration’s hard work, we will start to have answers. Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur noted in a statement.

“We appreciate that the governor, his staff, Dr. Ghaly, and Dr. Angell understood the urgency of this problem […] This data will finally give our government, our public health leaders and our community an understanding of the degree to which this pandemic is devastating LGBTQ+ people — and what steps need to be taken to save lives,” he added.

Because rates of respiratory issues (from smoking), HIV/AIDS, cancer, and homelessness are higher in the LGBTQ+ community, LGBTQ+ people are likely experiencing greater health impacts from COVID-19 according to studies by the Williams Institute.

In Los Angeles County, Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Sheila Kuehl had pushed a way to collect LGBTQ data locally, through the LA County Department of Public Health COVID portal.

Last month on June 18, Kuehl and the County announced that SOGI questions are now being included in the general questionnaire asked of all people seeking an appointment to test for the coronavirus. This is the same questionnaire used by providers asking data questions on race, age, and sex.

LGBT people experience disproportionate rates of underlying illness, poverty, homelessness, and discrimination,” Kuehl said in a statement to the Los Angeles Blade. “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.”

In the question and answer segment of the press briefing, the Los Angeles Blade asked Dr. Ghaly about the COVID testing and contact tracing prioritization among the homeless population specifically LGBTQI+ youth who comprise roughly 40% of homeless youth across California and the nation.

Ghaly noted that the state had refocused efforts in two of the Governor’s initiatives, Project Home-Key and Project Room-Key which were implemented to expand housing and shelters for the state’s homeless people and explained that efforts were being placed into further expanding the testing and contact tracing in the homeless population.

He also noted that testing supplies and quicker laboratory turnaround for shelters and social service agencies in support of homeless shelters and service providers continues to be a priority in delivering needed equipment and PPE.

The Blade also asked if his department was working towards greater penetration of the state’s Latino/Latinx population, which has seen the greatest amount of positive results for the coronavirus, with more bilingual personnel and contact tracing cohorts.

Ghaly said that a push was underway to expand testing capabilities beyond “brick and mortar facilities” and that emphasis was being placed on drive-thru testing sites and noted the need for greater penetration in the agricultural/factory workers population. He said that state health care workers will also be conducting disease investigation and contact tracing with sensitivity to “in-language” for accurate data collection.

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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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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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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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