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.