LGBTQ community urged to take precautions over coronavirus


On March 11, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, testified in front of the House Oversight Committee. Fauci, world-renowned for his groundbreaking work on HIV/AIDS, told Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) that the country “should expect things to get worse during the coronavirus pandemic.”

“Is the worst yet to come, Dr. Fauci?” Maloney asked.

“Yes, it is,” Fauci replied. “Things will get worse…the bottom line is it’s going to get worse.”

The pandemic has gotten worse for the tri-state area and medical professionals treating the LGBTQ community. Doctors at the Mazzoni Center are urging people over 60, people with health problems like HIV and other chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma and cancer, and those at risk through homelessness, to take special precautions.

The same day as Dr. Fauci’s testimony, the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown signed the National LGBT Cancer Network open letter, along with 113 other LGBT organizations, about coronavirus and the LGBT community. The letter addresses the LGBT community’s increased vulnerability for COVID-19.

Adrian Shanker, executive director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, spoke to PGN about the need for the letter.

“Public health threats like the coronavirus cause alarm and concern for all of us, but it’s important to remember that for some communities — particularly those who have faced a storied history of healthcare bias and stigma — it is even more critical that accurate information is provided with culturally-affirming messages. So far, there has been little effort to address the LGBT communities’ unique vulnerabilities and risk factors related to coronavirus. That’s why Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is participating in this national letter. The response to this, and any, public health threat needs to include messaging for communities historically marginalized and stigmatized by the healthcare systems in our country.”

The continually evolving story of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has impacted several counties in the Philadelphia region as well as throughout the state. On March 10, Philadelphia announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19 while the state of New Jersey announced its first death from the virus.

There are now a total of 14 presumptive positive cases in Pennsylvania. A dozen are self-quarantining at home, while two others are hospitalized in critical condition. Names of those infected are not being released, but officials are contacting those who have come in contact with those individuals.

People who are sick will be in isolation, either at home or at a hospital. Quarantine refers to people who may not be sick, but are kept separate because they have been, or may have been exposed to someone who is sick with coronavirus.

In a statement to PGN, Mayor Jim Kenney said, “We are fortunate that, at this time, there is only one confirmed case of COVID-19 coronavirus here in Philadelphia. I want to assure the public that Philadelphia is ready to manage this situation with the urgency that is warranted.

“We’ll continue monitoring the situation with our state, regional and local partners and receiving and distributing [Centers for Disease Control] guidance. We regularly work with our hospital and health care community to prepare for this type of situation, so we’re confident that the response now that we have a confirmed case will be handled appropriately.”

In a press conference late in the afternoon of March 10, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley was succinct: “The virus is circulating now. The pandemic has now arrived in the City of Philadelphia.”

Due to the fact that there are people who have been in contact with coronavirus and may not know it, Farley recommended that people in Philadelphia not attend public gatherings larger than 5,000 people.

On March 11, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was canceled, despite this year being the 250th anniversary of the event.

Philadelphia officials are not yet recommending the closure of schools, universities or workplaces, but City Managing Director Brian Abernathy said, “we are encouraging private employers to relax their sick-leave policies.”

Dr. Mark Watkins, a physician at Mazzoni Center told PGN that everyone, regardless of health status, should be doing the following to reduce the risk of coronavirus: “Wash your hands with water and soap or hand sanitizer for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose with unwashed hands. Stay home if you feel sick. Avoid anyone who appears to be sick.” The CDC also advises washing or sanitizing phones and computer keyboards.

The Bradbury-Sullivan letter highlights the risk factors for the LGBTQ community, noting that the LGBT population uses tobacco at rates that are 50 percent higher than the general population. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers. The LGBT population has higher rates of HIV and cancer which cause compromised immune systems and can leave them more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.

According to the letter, “LGBTQ people continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes, and lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings, and as a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent – and perhaps not even then.”

The letter reminds all parties handling COVID-19 surveillance, response, treatment, and media coverage that “LGBT communities are among those who are particularly vulnerable to the negative health effects of this virus.”

Watkins did explain that patients “living with HIV that is well-controlled who are undetectable with a good CD4 counts, should not be at increased risk.” Yet he said that is not all people with HIV. “If you look at those living with HIV — they are not a homogenous group. You have Wall Street bankers, you have celebrities like Magic Johnson — they are in care, they are compliant, their HIV is well controlled, so their risk is not greater than that of the general population who are in good health. But you also have the homeless who are living with HIV and who are not in care. Those living with HIV who are undiagnosed, and those patients who know their status but who have dropped out of care, or are not compliant with their HIV medications—those are the patients I’m most concerned about.”

He continued, “These people face increased risk from coronavirus, as do those living with HIV that is well controlled, but who have co-morbidities such as kidney disease, asthma or emphysema.”

Watkins urged those who know they are HIV positive but who are not currently in treatment to seek treatment at Mazzoni or elsewhere.

“In keeping with PDPH and CDC recommendations, we encourage everyone to stay informed about COVID-19 and contact their health care providers with questions.”

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