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Grim LA Metro Bus Accessibility- that’s if the bus will even stop says gay disabled rider

For Metro, clearly you’re not serving everyone equally and you need a policy change

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Mark Chaney (Photo courtesy of Mark Chaney)

LOS ANGELES – Living in the bustling city of Los Angeles, it’s very common to see people using a variety of different modes of transportation. Some have cars while others prefer to use popular apps like Uber and Lyft, but for some, the only option they might have is the L.A. Metro – the bus. Mark Chaney, an openly gay man with cerebral palsy, spoke with the Los Angeles Blade about what it’s like using L.A. Metro bus during the time of COVID-19.

Chaney just recently moved to Los Angeles, but was initially using modes of public transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area. “I started using public transportation when I was in the Bay Area,” Chaney said, “I was taking BART which was a lot easier.” He described his utilization of BART, a subway in the Bay Area, as being simple and easy in comparison to the bus system in Los Angeles. When talking about the bus system, Chaney said, “I didn’t really think [the bus] was going to be a challenge.”

Initially, Chaney attempted to use technology apps to get to and from places, but popular transportation apps like Uber and Lyft can be incredibly expensive when using them daily, so the bus seemed to be the best option. “When I moved to LA about two years ago, I started taking the bus,” he said, “It was the most cost effective option.”

Prior to realizing that there were no rearward bus disabled accommodations, Chaney would try and get on the bus through the back entrance which has no ramp or rail. Because of COVID-19 restrictions and safety precautions to protect the drivers to unnecessary exposure LA Metro had adapted its fleet to rear entrances with the exceptions of wheelchair riders.

LA Metro’s buses usually have two entrances – one towards the back and one in the front close to the bus driver. The issue with the back entrance is that it doesn’t have the types of accommodations for people with disabilities. The two types of accommodations that are offered in the front are lowering the bus closer to the ground, a process known as ‘kneeling,’ to make it easier for people to step onto and also allowing for a ramp to be flipped out onto the ground to accommodate wheelchair users.

Chaney talked about one of his experiences with the back entrance and how it led him to be injured. “I fell off the bus, hit my head on the sidewalk, knocked myself unconscious, and had a severe concussion,” Chaney indicated, “That occurred when I wasn’t using the ramp accommodation. It was one of the worst injuries I’ve ever had.”

Chaney told the Blade that his disability fluctuates – some days he does better while other days he might potentially fall or lose his stability and balance and be severely injured. He notes that “there’s not always a straight line progression.”

So, to get to and from places, Chaney needs to use the bus – specifically, the front entrance. Everything seemed to be going great in the era of pre-Covid, but once new COVID-19 guidelines came into play, it made it much more difficult for Chaney to get on the bus. “In order to use the front of the bus, you have to use the ramp rather than lowering the steps. During this time of COVID, I was seeing resistance to lowering the ramp that I have never seen before.”

When Chaney talked about “resistance” he said that it first looked like the “attitudes” of the drivers having to lower the ramp- ” [they] were rolling their eyes, getting angry at me, and gave me comments,” Chaney said.”

Chaney recalls a specific incident where he told a bus driver “thank you” in response to them lowering the ramp and they responded with “I don’t need your comments” in a hostile manner. These types of incidents aren’t isolated and in fact, they occur fairly frequently. Because of incidents like this, Chaney has had to file six complaints to the LA Metro.

In another incident, a bus driver wouldn’t give Chaney priority seating. “I had an operator give me the ramp, but she said that I wasn’t allowed to sit in the disabled seating because I don’t have a wheelchair,” he said, “It was just another example of a barrier.”

This issue becomes highlighted when Chaney explains the fact that there are plastic chains that block one’s ability to get to seating on the bus. “When I get on the bus, there is a plastic chain that blocks you from getting to the seats. Basically, it blocks off the front of the bus to get to the disabled seating as well as seating in the back for people without disabilities.” This means that Chaney getting denied priority seating makes it nearly impossible to sit down in a safe manner. 

Another barrier that Chaney points out isolates him is that the seats might be pushed up which requires physical strength to push them back down, Although Chaney says that on good days he has the physical strength necessary to push the seats back down, he still thinks it’s important to address because not everyone has the ability to. Whether the seats are blocked off through plastic chains that the drivers need to remove or whether the seats are pushed up it is clear that there are issues with accessibility he points out.

Photo Credit: The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

In some extreme instances, Chaney has been driven by once and then refused ramp service all on the same day this past Valentine’s Day. Chaney was sitting on the bench and the bus drove right past him while the next bus refused to open the front door and let the ramp down. These ramps for Chaney and others who need them are important because they have rails on both sides and can prevent people from getting extreme physical injuries.

Just recently, Chaney comments on an event that happened at the end of February. “I was waiting for the bus with a homeless passenger. The first bus slowed down and then drove off,” Chaney said, “The second bus stopped and when I requested the ramp, he stated he was not letting the other passenger on and then drove off without allowing me on the bus or giving me the ramp.”

In terms of getting on the bus, Chaney notes that it’s difficult, but what about getting off the bus? “Getting off is usually fine because once I get on it’s okay. I had one driver that when I got off- he didn’t put the ramp down,” Chaney said. In this one instance, the bus pulled up too close to the curb which made it impossible to lower the ramp. This doesn’t occur all the time, but it too can be an issue.

Chaney told the Blade in a final reflection; “There are good Metro operators that I’ve had that have been helpful to me and others, but the system has not been working for everyone. For people that hear this story – if you see something like this, be an ally, be an advocate, stand up and say something, let the disabled person know that you see them. Also, let the person doing whatever is wrong know that you see them too and it’s not okay, he says.

Asked by the Blade what he wants the officials at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to hear?

“For Metro, clearly you’re not serving everyone equally and you need a policy change,” he replied.

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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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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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