August 11, 2020 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

WeHo’s High COVID-19 Rate

City of West Hollywood has highest rate of COVID-19 in LA Countywide, LGBTQ population at risk

By Sam Catanzaro

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Los Angeles County, the City of West Hollywood continues to have the highest rate of infection of any city countywide.

According to the Los Angele Department of Public Health, as of April, 2 there are 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in West Hollywood. Public Health data shows that one out of every 529 West Hollywood residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the highest rate of any city in Los Angeles County. Across Los Angeles County, there are 4,045 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Nearly 40% of West Hollywood’s population identifies as LGBTQ, according to Visit West Hollywood, a Tourism Business Improvement District. Many public health experts say that LGBTQIA+ people and HIV positive individuals are likely at elevated risk for COVID-19 infection.

“Everyone is at risk of infection in this pandemic. But history shows that people who are marginalized and consequently experience disparities in health will suffer disproportionately greater harms than the general population,” said Sean Cahill, Director of Health Policy Research at The Fenway Institute. “Because of higher rates of chronic disease and risk factors like smoking and vaping, LGBTQIA+ people and people living with HIV should strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines and take care of their health as best they can right now.”

People with chronic health conditions, including HIV/AIDS, may be at elevated risk of serious complications from COVID-19. According to health experts, of most concern are people living with HIV who are not treatment adherent and virally suppressed.

“People living with HIV should make every effort to adhere to their treatment regimen by taking their HIV medication daily and engaging in other activities to remain healthy such as eating well, exercising, and avoiding tobacco and other substances,” The Fenway Institute said in a media release.

In addition, due to experiences of discrimination in health care settings as well as the impact of stigma and minority stress on health, many say that LGBTQIA+ people are more likely to have some of the underlying health conditions that could increase their vulnerability if they are exposed to the novel coronavirus.

According to The Fenway Institute, gay and bisexual men, as well as transgender women, have disproportionately higher rates of HIV. Lesbian women are more likely to have poor or fair health, multiple chronic conditions, heavy driving and heavy smoking compared with straight, cisgender women. Bisexual women are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions, severe psychological distress, and engage in heavy drinking and moderate smoking. Lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals of all ages are more likely to be living with disabilities than the general population. LGBTQ youth have higher rates of sedentarism, pre-diabetes, and diabetes. LGBT people are more likely to smoke and vape, and to use substances.

“A real concern for LGBTQIA+ people during this pandemic is that we know that they avoid seeking needed health care due to previous experiences of discrimination in health care settings or the fear of experiencing discrimination,” Cahill said. “We’ve also seen new policies enacted at the federal level and in some states that make it easier for health care providers to refuse treatment based on religious or moral beliefs. Discrimination in health care is never acceptable. During an unprecedented global health emergency, this is especially true.”

Another vulnerable group of people are transgender elderly people. An estimated 162,300 LGB and 9,000 transgender people age 65 and older live in California and are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

Health officials have associated high risk with people age 65 and older and those with compromised immune systems or serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. Using data from the California Health Interview Survey, researchers found that 53,100 LGB people and 3,000 transgender people in California age 65 and older have fair or poor health.

“Social and economic vulnerabilities can also contribute to an increased risk of serious illness related to COVID-19,” said lead author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “In addition to age and health, California’s public health measures should consider these factors, as many elderly LGB and transgender people in the state live alone and in poverty and may need special assistance.”

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