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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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CDC eases indoor mask guidance for fully vaccinated people

L.A. won’t immediately follow CDC’s relaxed mask rules

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CDC Headquarters in Atlanta, GA (Blade file photo)

WASHINGTON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) issued new guidance Thursday that eases mask wearing indoors for fully vaccinated people in most instances except for extremely crowded circumstances.

The new guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters but will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues — even removing the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated, the Associated Press reported.

“We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC.

President Joe Biden reflecting on the new CDC guidance that fully vaccinated people can go without masks said; “I think it’s a great milestone, a great day.” The President credited the full-court press by officials to get as many Americans vaccinated as possible in a short period of time as a contributing factor. Biden noted that as of Thursday, the U.S. has administered 250 million shots in 114 days.

He added, “The American people have never ever ever let their country down.”
Biden also stressed: “If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask.” and then he also said if you see someone wearing a mask, “please treat them with kindness and respect.”

Walensky announced the new guidance on Thursday afternoon at a White House briefing, crediting the change to millions of Americans who are getting vaccinated. She added that the CDC changes reflected on the latest science about how well the vaccines are working preventing further spread of the cornavirus.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities -– large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

There are some caveats the Associated Press noted pointing out the CDC Director encouraged people who have weak immune systems, such as from organ transplants or cancer treatment, to talk with their doctors before shedding their masks. That’s because of continued uncertainty about whether the vaccines can rev up a weakened immune system as well as they do normal, healthy ones.

Los Angeles County officials said Thursday the latest guidance from federal officials allowing fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in most places will not be effective in California immediately. The state and county will review the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations in order to “make sensible adjustments to the orders that are currently in place,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s mask-wearing requirements at businesses – including restaurants and supermarkets – remain in effect, and it could be a week or more before substantive changes to mask-wearing orders are implemented locally.

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LA County to offer vaccinations for 12-15 year old kids Thursday

The American Academy of Pediatrics urged that kids 12 and older get the Pfizer vaccine

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LOS ANGELES – Starting on Thursday the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will begin offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a two-shot regimen at the vaccine sites run by L.A. County that offer the Pfizer vaccine, for 12 to 15-year-olds.

Pfizer’s vaccine has been used for months in people 16 and older, and earlier this week the Food and Drug Administration cleared its use for those as young as age 12.  The CDC advisory panel on Wednesday noted that it affirmed the recommendation by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this week.

The Associated Press reported that the CDC until now has recommended not getting other vaccinations within two weeks of a COVID-19 shot, mostly as a precaution so that safety monitors could spot if any unexpected side effects cropped up.

But the CDC said Wednesday it is changing that advice because the COVID-19 vaccines have proved very safe — and that health workers can decide to give another needed vaccine at the same time for people of any age.

“The need for catch-up vaccination in coordination with COVID-19 vaccination is urgent as we plan for safe return to school,” CDC’s Dr. Kate Woodworth told the panel, citing millions of missed doses of vaccines against tetanus, whooping cough and other health threats.

The American Academy of Pediatrics on Wednesday also urged that kids 12 and older get the Pfizer vaccine — and agreed that it’s fine to give more than one vaccine at the same time, especially for kids who are behind on their regular vaccinations.

“With the CDC approval today, affirming the FDA recommendation, L.A. County will begin vaccinating youth 12 to 15 with the Pfizer vaccine tomorrow. We are grateful to the scientists, clinicians, and the young people who participated in clinical trials that helped the FDA and the CDC determine that these vaccines are safe and effective for this age group,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is the most powerful tool available to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and prevent hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.  Increasing the number of people vaccinated speeds up our recovery journey and allows us to safely participate in the summer activities we all love and miss,” she added.

Anyone younger than 18 should be accompanied by a parent, guardian or responsible adult, and present photo identification and verification of age, county public health officials said. Parents or teens with questions about the vaccine should contact their healthcare provider or visit the Public Health website for more information on vaccine safety and efficacy.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner offered answers to questions regarding the vaccine shots for 12-15 year olds during a call with reporters:

ARE THE SHOTS THE SAME AS THOSE FOR ADULTS?

Yes. The dose and the schedule are the same; the two shots are given three weeks apart.

WHERE CAN KIDS GET THE SHOTS?

Pharmacies, state sites and other places that are already vaccinating people 16 and older with the Pfizer vaccine should be able to give the shots to all authorized ages in most cases.

WILL KIDS NEED A GUARDIAN?

Parental consent will be needed, but exactly how it’s obtained could vary.

HOW WAS THE VACCINE VETTED FOR KIDS?

Pfizer’s late-stage vaccine study tested the safety and efficacy of the shots in about 44,000 people 16 and older. The study then enlisted about 2,200 children ages 12 to 15 to check for any differences in how the shots performed in that age group.

“This is just extending it down from 16 and 17 year olds, and getting further information,” Woodcock said.

WHY ONLY THE PFIZER VACCINE?

Because only Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with its German partner BioNTech, has completed studies in younger teens. Moderna recently said preliminary results from its study in 12- to 17-year-olds show strong protection and no serious side effects, but regulators still need to review the results before it can be offered to younger people.

WHAT SIDE EFFECTS ARE EXPECTED?

Common side effects were similar to those experienced by adults, and included fatigue, headache, muscle pain and fever. Except for pain in the arm where the needle is injected, the effects were likelier after the second shot.

CAN KIDS GET OTHER ROUTINE VACCINATIONS AT THE SAME TIME?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s updating its guidance to say other routine vaccinations can be given at the same time as the COVID-19 shots. It previously advised against other vaccinations within a two-week window so it could monitor people for potential side effects.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said it agrees with the position.

WHEN WILL YOUNGER KIDS BE ELIGIBLE?

It’s unclear how long the ongoing trials or regulatory reviews will take. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, recently suggested it could happen this year.

“We think by the time we get to the end of this year we will have enough information to vaccinate children of any age,” he said.

WHY SHOULD KIDS GET VACCINATED?

Even though children are far less likely to get severely ill if infected, health officials note the risk isn’t zero.

Vaccinating children is also key to ending the pandemic, since children can get infected and spread the virus to others, even if they don’t get sick themselves.

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LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity among adults and the older teenagers by mid- to late July, public health officials announced Monday. Over the weekend LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that appointments are no longer needed for Angelenos to get COVID-19 vaccinations at any site run by the city.

Garcetti’s move is intended to give people who don’t have the time or technological resources to navigate online booking platforms a chance to get the shot.

The percentage of the population the County needs to vaccinate to achieve community immunity is unknown, however Public Health officials estimate it’s probably around 80%. Currently, 400,000 shots each week are getting into the arms of L.A. County residents, and there are over 2 million more first doses to go before 80% of all L.A. County residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.

At this rate, Public Health expects the County will reach this level of community immunity in mid- to late July and that assumes the County continues to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That would include both first doses that people need as well as their second doses.

This news came as Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that attendance numbers at all grade levels in the District have been considerably lower than expected as extensive safety measures have failed to lure back the vast majority of families in the final weeks of school.

Only 7% of high school students, about 30% of elementary school children and 12% of middle school students have returned to campuses.

As of May 7, more than 8,492,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 5,146,142 were first doses and 3,346,668 were second doses.

On Monday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for people 16 years old and older.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday by the White House, President Joe Biden the FDA’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said.

Los Angeles County will offer the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms the FDA recommendation, which can happen as early as Wednesday. All adolescents 12-17 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get vaccinated.

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 or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

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