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LA masks up as hyper-contagious Delta variant surges at warp speed

“The extreme vulnerability of people who are not vaccinated, which will account for infections, hospitalizations, and, ultimately, deaths”

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – The County of Los Angeles is now positioned on the front lines of the national battle to contain the hyper-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. As cases and numbers explode in the United States, the decision by the County’s health officials to order residents to mask-up even if fully vaccinated indoors may prove to be the national blueprint for combatting transmission of the disease.

The Health Department’s new order takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Saturday everywhere in Los Angeles County, except Pasadena. (Pasadena and Long Beach have their own health departments; Long Beach followed L.A. County with its own mask order, but Pasadena still only recommends everyone mask up.)

Nearly two weeks after the Fourth of July holiday and one month after the June 15 reopening, transmission of COVID-19 in L.A. County has rapidly increased to very concerning levels. This is due to the presence of the more infectious Delta variant and the intermingling of unmasked individuals where vaccination status is unknown. 

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 1,827 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday afternoon; a four-fold increase from the 457 cases seen on July 4 and an eight-fold increase from the 210 cases seen on June 15.

Saturday’s daily test positivity rate is 3.7%.  On July 4, test positivity was near 1.5% and June 15, test positivity was near 0.5%.

Not every official however is onboard, on Friday Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, publicly announced; “Forcing the vaccinated and those who already contracted COVID-19 to wear masks indoors is not backed by science and contradicts the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.”

The Sheriff went on to add, “The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) has authority to enforce the order, but the underfunded/defunded Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will not expend our limited resources and instead ask for voluntary compliance.  We encourage the DPH to work collaboratively with the Board of Supervisors and law enforcement to establish mandates that are both achievable and supported by science.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex-Villanueva with wife Vivian
(Blade photo by Karen Ocamb)

The Sheriff’s announcement prompted reaction from West Hollywood City Mayor Lindsey Horvath who tweeted, “Last I checked, he’s not a scientist, nor is he a medical or healthcare professional. Let’s leave those decisions to the experts while we all do our part to take care of each other & get through this thing together.”

On Friday during the regularly scheduled White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials briefing Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters;

“CDC reported more than 33,000 new cases of COVID-19. [Thursday]  Our seven-day average is about 26,300 cases per day, and this represents an increase of nearly 70 percent from the prior seven-day average, she said. “There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.  We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk.  And communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well,” she added.

The CDC head also noted “the good news is that if you are fully vaccinated, you are protected against severe COVID, hospitalization, and death, and are even protected against the known variants — including the Delta variant — circulating in the country” But she cautioned, “If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk.  And our biggest concern is that we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations, and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated.”

The chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci told the briefing; “We are dealing with a formidable variant in the Delta variant, as reflected by the data that Dr. Walensky told you, and the extreme vulnerability of people who are not vaccinated, which will account for infections, hospitalizations, and, ultimately, deaths.
 
And so the message loud and clear that we need to reiterate is that these vaccines continue to strong protection against SARS-CoV-2, including the Delta variant.  And so — why it’s so important for yourself, your family, and your community to get vaccinated.”

Biden administration officials in the effort to get the remaining population vaccinated are also combating misinformation about the vaccines and COVID-19 spread even among those fully vaccinated in what the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Hallegere Murthy warned is “a serious threat to public health,” as the Biden administration grows increasingly concerned about misleading claims about coronavirus vaccines.

The President addressed those concerns in a question posed as he was departing the White House Friday afternoon. When asked by NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Peter Alexander, “What’s your message to platforms like Facebook regarding COVID misinformation?” The president responded saying “They’re killing people.”

“The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s — they’re killing people,” he added.

A spokesperson for Facebook angrily deflected the President’s remarks in a media statement saying in part, “More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”

U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy (Screenshot via C-SPAN)

Indirectly taking aim at social media giant Facebook, the Surgeon General had told reporters Thursday, “Now, health misinformation didn’t start with COVID-19. What’s different now though is the speed and scale at which health misinformation is spreading. Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users. They’ve allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation — what we call “disinformation” — to have extraordinary reach,” he said.
 
“They’ve designed product features, such as “Like” buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally-charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation,” Murthy added.

In a series of phone calls, public health officials at local, state, and federal levels told the Blade that with the onslaught of the Delta variant, Americans need to be more vigilant- especially as Americans are traveling more and headed out to favored holiday or even local activities.

An official for the CDC, who is knowledgeable but not authorized to speak publicly, acknowledged that there seemed to be a generalized perception that a person being fully vaccinated is immune which is worrisome as the official reiterated Dr. Fauci’s public statement Friday that the bottom line continues to be very simple: “While fully vaccinated individuals have a high degree of protection against serious illness from COVID-19, including the Delta variant.” The official went on to note that a fully vaccinated person can be infected asymptomatic and be a source of transmission especially the Delta variant.

When asked about the health order in Los Angeles to order masks indoors even if fully vaccinated the CDC official said that erring on the side of caution in the face of the lightening spread of the Delta variant was not only prudent but would ultimately save lives.

As LA County prepares to have Angelenos mask-up again, debate also peppers discussions on social media and elsewhere over the issue of breakthrough COVID-19 cases. The CDC defines breakthrough to any presumed infection by SARS-CoV-2 (that is, any positive coronavirus test) if it’s detected more than two weeks after someone receives the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Media reports on a series of breakthrough COVID-19 cases in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a popular Cape Cod holiday destination especially in the LGBTQ community, suggests that the CDC and health department’s information on degree of illness experienced being milder than would be the case if unvaccinated, is backed by the science and data.

According to a spokesperson for the Barnstable County Department of Health, which covers all of the Cape including Provincetown, there have been breakthrough documented cases among residents, especially on the Provincetown island. In a statement released earlier in the week health department officials noted;

Cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Provincetown, in consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The positive cases were identified in individuals presenting with mild respiratory symptoms and were tested for COVID-19.

Overwhelmingly, the affected individuals have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The moderate intensity of symptoms indicates that the vaccines are working as predicted. Provincetown has among the highest vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, with 114% of the eligible population age 12 and older in Provincetown having been fully vaccinated.

Health officials expect to continue to see a low level of positive cases through the summer in a community such as Provincetown with a seasonal population of approximately 60,000. As we enter a new phase of living with the virus, vaccination remains our strongest defense in preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.”

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a specialist in infectious diseases, explained that while breakthrough cases are going to occur, all cases would be decreased if everyone just got the vaccine already.

Perhaps most important, mini outbreaks like this one do nothing to dent the clear reality that the vaccines are safe and effective.

“These people somehow believe that COVID is going to magically disappear,” he told The Daily Beast. “We are going to be having COVID cases ten years from now. And breakthrough cases will occur no matter what.”

Los Angeles entrepreneurial executive Brian Pendleton, a private pilot, had flown his plane to the Cape to spend the July 4 holiday weekend at Provincetown along with his partner. Halfway through his holiday there he experienced symptoms including headaches, congestions, he told the Blade this week. Upon returning to Los Angeles he was tested for COVID-19 and initially received a negative result. But he says after a PCR test he was tested positive.

Courtesy of Brian Pendleton

Pendleton said that his partner also tested positive and later discovered that his partner’s 70 something parents had also tested positive. All of them have been vaccinated for the disease, Pendleton noting that he received his second dose of Moderna at LA’s mass vaccination site at Dodger stadium in April.

Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis acknowledged that a percentage of vaccinated people will be affected by that the numbers are miniscule in comparison to those who remain unvaccinated and are at much greater exposure to hospitalization and dying from the disease.

Speaking about the new mask mandate, Davis said that it applies to everyone, including vaccinated people. That’s because he and other public health officials want to make masking a universal practice, to ensure everyone who needs to is doing it.

“I don’t think in general that self-attestation is actually good and there may be some people who are unvaccinated and don’t want to make that known,” Davis said in announcing the revised rules Thursday. “That just puts others at risk.”

Groups who are exempt from the rules remain unchanged from earlier in the pandemic: children under 2 and anyone who can’t safely wear a mask.

The main push now Davis and other officials are urging, is to get as many Angelenos vaccinated as possible. As of this week, 61% of county residents age 16 and older are fully vaccinated, and more than 5 million people total.

Officials want to achieve a vaccination rate of at least 80% to reach herd immunity, which means even unvaccinated people are protected from the virus’ uncontrolled spread. The date the county is expected to get to that number has been repeatedly pushed back, and now it’s not expected to come before fall.

“We continue to see fewer folks than we’d like to see getting their first dose of vaccine, week to week,” Davis said. “As there is currently substantial community transmission of COVID-19 here in L.A. County and in our nation, that urgency to get more people vaccinated remains high.”

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Los Angeles

Testimony in first week of Buck trial paints a portrait of pure evil

Buck can be heard in the background; “Go one more time,” encouraging Moore to smoke more meth while Buck films him.

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United States Court House in downtown Los Angeles (Photo by Jasmyne Cannick)

LOS ANGELES – Disturbed by the graphic nature of the video evidence that was presented in court last week as the trial of Ed Buck got underway, U. S. District Court Judge Christina A. Snyder cautioned Assistant United States Attorney Lindsay Bailey and the prosecution team to be careful “how aggressively they present evidence that could traumatize jurors,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“It may well be that we offer counseling to them at the end of the case,” Snyder said.

Buck, who has been charged on multiple Federal counts of distribution of controlled substances resulting in death, had solicited dozens of young Black men over the years to engage in deviant sexual acts as he forcibly injected them with methamphetamine.

In USA v. Edward Buck, Buck is charged in a nine-count first superseding indictment with distribution of methamphetamine resulting in death, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C) (Counts 1 and 2); distribution of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C) (Counts 2 through 6); maintaining a drug premises, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(1) (Count 7); and enticement to travel for purposes of prostitution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(a) (Counts 8 and 9).

Buck was also charged with one count of using his West Hollywood residence, described in court by prosecutors as the “gates of hell” for the purpose of distributing narcotics such as methamphetamine, and the sedatives gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and clonazepam.

Testimony by a former Los Angeles resident Carlos, a homeless man who was living on the streets and paid by Buck to do errands and clean Buck’s apartment painted a graphic picture of the overwhelming amount of depravity Buck engaged in.

Buck would solicit his victims on social media platforms, including Grinder, and on Adam4Adam, a gay hook-up site. Buck’s profile solicited men who shared his underwear fetish and wanted to “party and play.” His profile also contained a ‘Rose’ emoji which symbolized that he was generous or in plain terms, willing to pay cash for his “party and play.”

PnP or party and play — also called “chemsex”— is a subculture of drug use that occurs while having sex. PnP has been widely associated with gay men and with men who have sex with other men, although it spans sexual preferences.

Jurors heard testimony from Carlos the Times noted and others that Buck’s preference was to personally inject victims, and he pressured or incentivized victims to let him do so, sometimes offering large cash bonuses to coerce a victim to agree to an injection or additional injections. At other times, Buck simply injected victims while they were unconscious.

While the testimony of Buck’s accusers and victims was shocking, prosecutor’s use of the videos offered jurors a disturbingly graphic look at the chilling indifference displayed by Buck as he victimized those unfortunate to enter his flat.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department veteran homicide detective, Sergeant Paul Cardella, testified that the LASD seized approximately eight of Buck’s digital devices and Buck’s iCloud account, which upon execution of a search warrant the investigators discovered messages, photographs, and about 2,400 videos with roughly 1,500 documenting his party-and-play sessions.

The LASD investigation was aided by investigators from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The videos included sessions with Gemmel Moore, the 26 year old declared dead after a drug overdose in Buck’s Laurel Avenue flat in July of 2017. Moore was the first death to occur prosecutors said.

Veteran Black community activist and writer Jasmyne Cannick summarized the details:

“Gemmel was nearly naked except for the white underwear he is wearing.  Ed Buck is filming him.

Gemmel tells Ed Buck that he doesn’t want his face in the video.  Buck clearly ignores Gemmel’s request because we can see Gemmel’s face.

He tells Gemmel not to worry because he’s going to erase the video and that he’s only recording to let Gemmel see what he looks like.

In the video, you can see Ed Buck smoking crystal meth and blowing the smoke into a rubber tube of which the end is inside of the white underwear.  Ed Buck is being sexually aroused watching the smoke from the meth come out of the underwear Gemmel has on.

In another video, Gemmel is shown smoking meth from a pipe and Ed Buck has the camera focused on Gemmel’s erect penis in white underwear with a rubber tube and smoke coming out of it.

Buck can be heard in the background saying, “Go one more time,” encouraging Moore to smoke more meth.

We were shown a screenshot from a video taken July 31, 2016, of naked Gemmel Moore with Ed Buck being seen through a mirror in the background filming.

There were multiple videos shown to the jury of Gemmel Moore smoking meth in white underwear with Ed Buck.

In one video Gemmel tells Ed Buck that he doesn’t know if he can handle another slam and that he’s high.

Ed Buck responds that he’s there to make Gemmel “offers and indecent proposals.”

Slamming’ is the term used to describe the action of injecting meth, typically in relation to gay and bisexual men.

Gemmel tells Ed Buck in the video that he doesn’t like tweaking.

Tweaking is a slang term that means to be under the influence of methamphetamine. Tweaking is also defined as “to malfunction or to react with extreme emotion.” The odd actions and behaviors that can take place after meth use are known as tweaking, while the user is called a tweaker.

Ed Buck is injecting Gemmel Moore with meth in his arm and tells him that he’ll get over it.

One particularly disturbing video–and they were all disturbing–Gemmel Moore is unconscious and Ed Buck is playing with his penis.  Buck is seen grabbing, twisting, and posing Gemmel’s penis for the camera.

A video from September 6, 2016, shows Gemmel Moore telling Ed Buck that’s he’s high AF and him asking Buck to remove the dozens of socks tied tight around his penis.  In this video, Gemmel is almost completely buried under a pile of mostly white-colored underwear.

GEMMEL MOORE: I need to take this thing off my dick and stroke it.

ED BUCK: No, you don’t. Only I get to touch your dick.

GEMMEL MOORE: I am so vulnerable.

ED BUCK: Yes, you are. Yes, you are.”

For Carlos, who has moved to Las Vegas to be near his toddler and ex-wife, it was a painful ordeal to take the witness stand he tells the Los Angeles Times. “I fight every day not to commit suicide,” he testified. “It’s really hard.”

Carlos started to cry. “I thought I put Ed Buck behind me.”

Christopher Darden, a lawyer for Buck, told the jury his client was on trial “for conduct that millions of people engage in.” He dismissed the witnesses against Buck as manipulative escorts and drug abusers who used Buck for his money, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“The evidence is going to show that these grown men made a conscious decision to go to Ed Buck’s apartment for whatever reason,” Darden said in his opening statement.

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Los Angeles

KTLA reports that some SoCal bars are requiring proof of vaccinations

According to the local cultural scene media outlet L.A. Taco, that requiring proof list is rapidly expanding daily

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Graphic via KTLA 5 Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Erin Myers and Steve Kuzj report for the KTLA 5 Morning News that there are now some Southern California bars requiring customers to show proof of vaccination to enter in hopes of stopping the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

Also, according to the local cultural scene media outlet L.A. Taco, that list is rapidly growing.

WATCH:

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Los Angeles

LAPD under scrutiny for excessive force in Wi Spa confrontation

LAPD officers recorded firing projectiles 10 times and striking people with batons nine times according to body cam footage

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Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore being interviewed by KTLA (Blade file photo)

LOS ANGELES – During a meeting of the civilian Los Angeles Police Department’s Board of Police Commissioners Tuesday, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said that department investigators were reviewing reports of excessive force by LAPD officers during protests over transgender rights at a Koreatown Spa this past Saturday.

According to Chief Moore, officer’s from the LAPD Rampart Division had arrested 41 people, 40 individuals who were cited for failure to disperse after an unlawful assembly was declared and one for possession of illegal or prohibited items at a protest. He said LAPD officers recorded firing projectiles 10 times and striking people with batons nine times according to body cam footage.

Multiple videos were shared on social media that showed confrontations with the LAPD, several protestors depicted were allegedly injured by officers and on the videos claimed that they posed no threat.

The Chief told the Board of Commissioners his department would investigate all allegations of misconduct, he emphasized that those videos posted on social media only showed certain perspectives and alleged that activists were “essentially shopping clips and snippets” online that distort facts.

KABC 7 ran a video that shows an LAPD officer shoot a non-lethal round at a protester at close range as officers in riot gear responded to a clash between the two groups.

For the second time in less than a month violent protests over Transgender rights erupted at the intersection near Wilshire Boulevard and South Rampart Boulevard outside the Wi Spa located at 2700 Wilshire Blvd.

The protests erupted earlier this month after a transphobic video was posted on Instagram regarding an incident at the spa which allows its patrons to use its facilities according to their gender identity. An Instagram user Cubana Angel posted a video using transphobic terms as she complained to staffers about a Trans female patron.

The spa’s Trans-inclusive policy was defended by activists from the far left which led to a clash that resulted in several assaults with far right groups including the white nationalist group The Proud Boys, and adherents of the QAnon with T-shirts that mention the term ‘Pedowood,’ a baseless theory about a secret cabal of Satanist child abusers in government, entertainment and the media.”

There is increasing doubt among activists, law enforcement and staff at the Wi Spa whether there was ever was a transgender person there to begin with. A prominent trans activist told the Blade Tuesday confidentially that none of the local Trans activist community believe that there was a trans person in the first place.

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