The California Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that they would begin collecting data regarding COVID-19 patients’ sexual orientation and gender identity. The announcement was also made by Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the department, during Tuesday’s daily briefing on the pandemic.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, proposed a bill in May that called for this data collection in order to understand the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the LGBTQ community.
Members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to have underlying conditions such as cancer and HIV, making the symptoms and effects of COVID-19 more severe. Additionally, LGBTQ people are more likely to work essential jobs and experience hardships with paying rent, according to David Heitstuman, the CEO of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center.
With physical and financial conditions playing a part in the pandemic, the data will allow for a greater understanding of how the pandemic has affected the LGBTQ community.
Equality California, a statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, worked with the department to implement the regulations.
“The COVID-19 crisis has devastated the LGBTQ+ community. But for months, we haven’t had the data to understand how, why or exactly what to do,” said Rick Chavez Zbur, executive director of Equality California.
Zbur expressed concerns that not having LGBTQ-specific data would lead to pandemic solutions and programs that leaves out the community. The Department of Health and Human Services agreed.
“Today begins that day when we will have that information anew and be able to tailor our interventions and our programs to close disparities there,” Ghaly said.
Ghaly outlined guidelines for county and healthcare worker reporting through the Cal Ready system. While the data may be lacking at first, he expects the reporting to increase throughout the next month.
Ghaly also hopes that careful reporting will increase the race and ethnicity data reported to the California Department of Health and Human Services. As many as one third of cases are reported without race and ethnicity data.
Wiener’s bill was amended Monday to include reporting sexual orientation and gender identity for all communicable diseases reported to the California Department of Health and Human Services, not just COVID-19.
The goal of the data is to have information about disparities and the magnitude of disparities on the LGBTQ community. Specific policies and interventions could be better tailored to address the disparities.
“We can’t keep leaving the LGBTQ behind when it comes to public health. California can and should lead the way in giving the LGBTQ community the health justice it deserves,” Wiener said.
Wiener’s bill would make California the first state in the U.S. to collect data about sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to communicable diseases.
Heitstuman also hopes that the data will help inform policies not only address the physical disparities that the pandemic creates, but also the mental health and economic effects on the community.
“I think it’s super important that we are able to collect that information because without it we can’t make informed decisions about how to most effectively address those who are most impacted by COVID-19,” Heitstuman said.
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