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Coronavirus

Newsom signs legislative relief package, answers critics on vaccination rollout missteps

Public Health has identified 1,183,378 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County and 20,057 deaths

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coronavirus, gay news, Washington Blade
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Tuesday a comprehensive package of immediate actions that will speed needed relief to individuals, families and businesses suffering the most significant economic hardship due to COVID-19.

Crafted by Newsom and legislative leaders last week, the pandemic assistance plan also includes more than $2.1 billion in grants and fee waivers for small businesses. Another $2 billion in tax breaks for businesses is expected to be acted on by the Legislature later this week, which would bring the total package to $9.6 billion.

“As millions of Californians are struggling to make ends meet amid the devastating impacts of this pandemic, we are taking immediate action in partnership with our legislative leadership to provide families and businesses the relief they need,” said Newsom. “This critical assistance – including child care, relief for small business owners, direct cash support to individuals and households, financial aid for community college students and more – will help keep our communities afloat as the state continues to confront the immense challenges of this moment.”

Below are key provisions of the bills signed into law:

Direct Relief to Individuals and Families

Incorporates the Governor’s Golden State Stimulus plan to assist California households that have borne the disproportionate economic burden of the COVID-19 Recession – those with incomes below $30,000, as well as those unfairly excluded from previous federal stimulus payments.

Provides $600 in one-time relief to households receiving the California EITC for 2020. In addition, the agreement provides a $600 one-time payment to taxpayers with Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs) who were precluded from receiving the $1,200 per person federal payments issued last spring and the more recent $600 federal payments. Today’s action also provides $600 payments to households with ITINs and income below $75,000. ITIN taxpayers who also qualify for the California EITC would receive a total of $1,200. The payments will be provided to these households shortly after they file their 2020 tax returns.

Provides direct relief to additional lower-income Californians through a $600 one-time grant to households enrolled in the CalWORKS program and recipients of SSI/SSP and Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI). Grant payments for CalWORKS households are expected by mid-April; timing for the delivery of SSI/SSP and CAPI grants is currently under discussion with federal officials.

Combined, the package represents a total of 5.7 million payments to low-income Californians.

Immediate Relief for Small Businesses 

Provides $2.1 billion – a four-fold increase over the $500 million currently being distributed – for grants up to $25,000 for small businesses impacted by the pandemic, and allocates $50 million of this total for non-profit cultural institutions.

Fee Waivers for Heavily Impacted Licensees

Two years of fee relief for roughly 59,000 restaurants and bars licensed through the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control that can range annually from $455 to $1,235. The action also reflects fee relief for more than 600,000 barbering and cosmetology individuals and businesses licensed through the Department of Consumer Affairs.

More Resources for Critical Child Care

Addition of just over $400 million in new federal funds to provide stipends of $525 per enrolled child for all state-subsidized child care and preschool providers serving approximately 400,000 children in subsidized care statewide. The new federal resources will extend care for children of essential workers through June of 2022, and funds increased access to subsidized child care for more than 8,000 children of essential workers and at-risk children – who are not currently served in the system – through June of 2022.

Additional Aid for Individuals and Families

Provides an additional $24 million for financial assistance and services through Housing for the Harvest – a program providing support for agricultural workers who have to quarantine due to COVID-19. The effort also provides a combined $35 million for food banks and diapers.

Emergency Financial Relief to Support Community College Students

Provides an additional $100 million in emergency financial aid for qualifying low-income students carrying six or more units, with award amounts to be determined locally and made available by early April. In addition, the agreement provides $20 million to reengage students who have either left their community college studies because of the pandemic or to engage students at risk of leaving.

CalFresh Student Outreach and Application Assistance

Provides roughly $6 million to support outreach and application assistance to University of California, California State University and California Community College students made newly eligible for CalFresh – the state-administered federal program for supplemental food assistance. The agreement also provides $12 million in state funds to support associated county administrative workload.

Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

Newsom also announced Tuesday that California would be making changes to a program designed to address inequities in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. The announcement came after a Los Angeles Times report uncovered evidence that outsiders were misusing the program to grab appointments reserved for residents of neighborhoods hit hardest by the pandemic.

Access codes intended for residents of under-served Black and Latino areas are showing up in group texts and messages among the wealthier, work-from-home set in Los Angeles, the Times reported.

Newsom didn’t provide details about what changes would be made to the program, but said the state would be “moving away” from the group code system.

A spokesperson for Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city has resumed vaccination appointments after postponements and delays related to the winter storms that battered other regions of the nation.

Several of the city’s large-scale sites – including Dodger Stadium, Hansen Dam Recreation Area, San Fernando Park, Lincoln Park, Pierce College and Crenshaw Christian Center, were closed late last week when vaccine shipments were held up.

While new COVID cases and test positivity rates are declining, Los Angeles County remains in the most restrictive purple tier in the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. In order to move into the red tier and have additional opportunities for re-openings, L.A. County’s daily case rate must be at or below 7 new cases per 100,00 people and the County’s test positivity rate must be at or below 8%. Tuesday, the State released updated numbers; L.A. County’s adjusted case rate is 12.3 new cases per 100,000 people and the test positivity rate is 5.1%.

Public Health on Tuesday also confirmed 157 new deaths and 2,091 new cases of confirmed COVID-19. In total, Public Health has identified 1,183,378 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County and 20,057 deaths.

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Coronavirus

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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Coronavirus

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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Coronavirus

COVID-19 Cases increase by nearly 10 times in one month

While hospitalizations continue to climb, Public Health data shows that many positive cases are admitted for reasons other than COVID

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Graphic courtesy of UCLA/Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

LOS ANGELES – A total of 31,576 new COVID-19 cases were documented on Monday — up ten times the number of cases reported on Dec. 17, 2021, when there were 3,360 new cases recorded the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported Monday.

There are  4,564 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized, nearly 6 times the number from one month ago when 772 people were hospitalized. The daily positivity rate is 16.5%, more than 8 times the 2% daily positivity rate on December 17th.

Just one week ago, the county surpassed 2 million total COVID-19 cases, with the figure reaching 2,289,045 cases as of Monday.

“On this national holiday where we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, we remember his deep commitment to health equity.  As Reverend King memorably said, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death,’ ” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health.

“Tragically, we have seen this play out in real life and very clearly over the past two years with the disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of color. From the onset of the pandemic, communities of color have experienced the greatest devastation from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and throughout the nation,” she added.

“The good news is that while hospitalizations continue to climb, Public Health data shows that many positive cases are admitted for reasons other than COVID but, are identified with COVID when tested for COVID upon hospital admission,” the health department said in a statement released last week.

As of Friday, more than 80% of all adult ICU beds in the county were occupied.

There are also 27 new deaths due to COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and 31,576 new positive cases.

The public health department also noted that while the number of children hospitalized with the virus remains low, the number of them admitted to L.A. County hospitals “significantly increased” over the past month, with the largest increase among children younger than 5 years old.

The increase mirrors trends seen nationwide for the age group — the only one not yet eligible for the vaccine.

The county also saw its highest coronavirus death rate in nearly 10 months over this past week, with an average of 40 COVID-19 deaths a day.

“From the onset of the pandemic, communities of color have experienced the greatest devastation from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and throughout the nation. As we continue to implement strategies – enforcing worker protections through our Health Officer Orders, providing resources needed by many to survive the impact of the pandemic, funding community-based organizations in hard hit areas to serve as trusted public health messengers, and increasing vaccination access in under-sourced neighborhoods – we also need to come together to address the impact that racism, historical disinvestment, and social marginalization have on COVID-19 outcomes,” Ferrer said.

“While these conditions predate the pandemic, without deliberate collective actions to address the root causes of health inequities, we are unlikely to close the gaps we have documented for 2 long years,” she added.

California has recorded more than 7 million coronavirus cases after its fastest accumulation of reported infections in the history of the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The unprecedented count, recorded in California’s databases late Monday, comes one week after the state tallied its 6 millionth coronavirus case.

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