New Research Shows Disproportionate Impacts of COVID-19 on LGBT POC

A new study from UCLA found disproportionate negative impacts of COVID-19 on LGBT people, people of color, and in particular, the intersection of the two (LGBT people of color).

"The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on LGBT people cannot be fully understood without considering race and ethnicity as well as sexual orientation and gender identity. Across a number of indicators, LGBT people of color are more likely to experience the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 than non-LGBT White people. LGBT people of color are more likely to have tested positive for COVID-19, to personally know someone who died of COVID-19, and to have experienced several types of economic instability as a result of the pandemic. They are also more likely to follow public health measures, such as getting tested for COVID-19, social distancing, and wearing masks than non-LGBT White people. The impact of the pandemic on LGBT people—and LGBT people of color specifically—must be taken into account as the federal government seeks to restore trust in institutions responding to the public health crisis and to provide support to those most economically affected by COVID-19."

Some key findings:

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East Lansing Police More Likely to Stop and to Use Force Against Black People

Newly released data shows that East Lansing Police Department officers are more likely to use force against Black people than White people. Over the last four years, ELPD records indicate that officers used force against 184 Black people and 179 White people. 76% of East Lansing residents are White and 6.8% are Black, and in neighboring Lansing, 61% of residents are White and 23.3% are Black.

Additional data that came out last week shows that the average Black resident of East Lansing was nearly three times as likely to be stopped by an East Lansing Police Department officer than a White resident in the last quarter of 2020. Kim Johnson, ELPD's new Chief said it was "unacceptable" and that he would "take all necessary corrective actions within our agency." According to the East Lansing Human Rights Commission, he indicated that he is not seeing the impacts of changes he's instituted since coming on board.

At a meeting of the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission, East Lansing Public Schools Board Treasurer Kath Edsall said "Black people in this community have considered East Lansing a sundown town since I arrived in 1978." Sundown towns are "all-white communities, neighborhoods, or counties that exclude Blacks and other minorities through the use of discriminatory laws, harassment, and threats or use of violence" (source). Edsall said "I'm not surprised at all by the data and neither are most of the Black people I have spoken with...What's frustrating is that we continue to have commentary that we are shocked about this."

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Meijer to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines

Early last week, Meijer announced a partnership with the state of Michigan to assist in distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Meijer stated that it would administer 25,000 doses of vaccines by the end of this week, and while they have not announced specific availability moving forward, their website is up for registration. If you know of folks who are interested in registering and are currently eligible, they can visit or text “COVID” to 75049. Increasing availability and access to COVID-19 vaccinations are crucial in reducing vaccination disparities (including racial, economic, and other demographic and geographic disparities) currently observed, and to be able to reach as many individuals and communities as possible will be key in managing COVID-19. 

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Inequitable Vaccination Distribution 

Two months into COVID-19 vaccine distribution, data is showing that white individuals are being vaccinated at higher rates than Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) across the United States. While some of this is due to vaccine hesitancy based on years of medical racism and mistrust, that is not the full story. Across states, vaccine roll-out has been chaotic and challenging, with vaccine shortages and complicated registration processes. This is leading to hardest-hit populations having disportionately low vaccination rates. In many major cities, there are fewer vaccine providers in areas where BIPOC individuals live than in majority white areas. With fewer vaccine providers, BIPOC individuals have to travel farther distances than white people. Because of systemic racism, BIPOC individuals are more likely to have barriers, such as a lack of access to transportation or working jobs that are inflexible to vaccine clinic hours, that may impede ability to travel to receive a vaccine. In addition, registration processes present additional barriers, and many require navigating online systems that require WI-FI or internet service, or requiring calling to secure an appointment. These processes may leave behind those who do not have access to the Internet, those who do not speak English as their first language, or those who are not able to navigate a website or phone system without help. All of these factors have led to those with Internet access, a vehicle, and who live closer to vaccine distribution sites to receive the vaccine at higher rates, most of whom are white because of the inequitable society we live in. 

In New York City, white individuals have received the vaccine at rates 4 times higher than Black individuals and 3 times higher than Latinx individuals. In Chicago, neighborhoods that are majority white and affluent are seeing vaccine rates up to 4 times higher than neighborhoods that are majority Black or Latinx and less affluent, despite the neighborhoods that are majority Black or Latinx and less affluent having much higher rates of death from COVID-19. In the state of Missouri, with the data that has been collected, 59% of vaccine doses administered have gone to white individuals. The state has done rural mass vaccinations campaigns, but has left hospitals to primarily distribute vaccinations in the major cities, where higher proportions of BIPOC live. This has left behind those who do not have a prior relationship with the hospital systems and has given an advantage to those in rural areas who do not have to access hospital registration systems in order to be vaccinated. These cities and states are not unique. This is something we are seeing across the United States. By not prioritizing equity in vaccine distribution, those most impacted by COVID-19 are being left behind and unprotected. 

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Survey Shows LGBTQ+ People Less Likely to Want COVID-19 Vaccines

A new survey from an LGBTQ+ organization in Colorado (One Boulder County) found that LGBTQ+ folx are less likely to want to get a COVID-19 vaccine than cis-het people. Specifically, they found that 17% of LGBTQ+ folx said they were unsure or would not get a COVID-19 vaccine if one was available today, compared to 9% of non-LGBTQ+ people. Broken down further, 20% of cisgender LGTBQ+ people responded that that they were unsure or wouldn’t get the vaccine, compared to 15% of trangender people, and 8% of cisgender non-LGBTQ+ people.

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Biden Announces COVID-19 Equity Updates and New Appointments

President Biden has announced the 12 members of the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. "The COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force will provide recommendations for addressing health inequities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future." Members reflect a wide range of experience and backgrounds, and include one member from Lansing: Joneigh Khaldun, the State of Michigan's Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health at MDHHS.

On February 9th, President Biden announced a Community Health Center Vaccination Program to "provide easier access to vaccinations for under-served communities." "Federally Qualified Community Health Centers (FQHCs) will begin directly receiving vaccine supply...Two-thirds of the population that these centers serve are living at or below the federal poverty line and 60% are racial and/or ethnic minorities...This program is part of a broader effort to ensure all communities are being reached in the national push to get people vaccinated." Additionally, "the Biden-Harris Administration will increase overall, weekly vaccine supply to states, Tribes, and territories to 11 million doses nationwide beginning this week."

Biden also appointed Arlando Teller, an openly gay Navajo man, to serve as the U.S. Department of Transportation's deputy assistant secretary for tribal affairs. The Secretary of Transportation is Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay Cabinet member in U.S. history.

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South Africa Suspends AstraZeneca Vaccine Use

Early last week, South Africa announced that it would suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. This comes after evidence from a clinical trial suggested the vaccine did not prevent COVID-19 infection in younger adults by the South African strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A trial is still ongoing in 100,000 older healthcare workers to determine whether it will prevent infection and/or prevent severe disease. Currently, about 90% of infections in South Africa have been attributed to this new strain of the virus, and this is a devastating blow to COVID-19 prevention efforts. That being said, the African Union (AU) has announced that it will continue to utilize the AstraZeneca vaccine in a more targeted fashion, distributing the vaccine where the South African strain of the virus is not as prevalent. Many will still be able to benefit from this vaccine, and having multiple methods of preventing transmission and severity of disease will be crucial in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Cases of the South African variant of the virus have started to be found in the U.S. in the last few weeks, but it is currently not the dominant strain in the country.

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Supreme Court Rules on COVID-19 Restrictions to Religious Services

On February 5th, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case involving COVID-19 restrictions and religious institutions. The case was brought by two churches in California who argued that limits on attendance of their religious services put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were unconstitutional limits on the free exercise of religion. In its ruling, the court blocked the total ban on church services that was put in place by the state in some locations, but left in place a capacity limit of 25% and a prohibition on singing and chanting.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a harsh dissent, which opens with the following:

"Justices of this Court are not scientists. Nor do we know much about public health policy. Yet today the Court displaces the judgments of experts about how to respond to a raging pandemic. The Court orders California to weaken its restrictions on public gatherings by making a special exception for worship services. The majority does so even though the State’s policies treat worship just as favorably as secular activities (including political assemblies) that, according to medical evidence, pose the same risk of COVID transmission. Under the Court’s injunction, the State must instead treat worship services like secular activities that pose a much lesser danger. That mandate defies our caselaw, exceeds our judicial role, and risks worsening the pandemic."

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First Greater Lansing Case of UK Variant of Virus that Causes COVID-19

Eaton County also reported their first confirmed case of the B.1.1.7.variant, also referred to as the U.K. variant, of the SARS-CoV-2 virus this past week. This is the first known case in the Greater Lansing area. Knowing how variants work is crucial in developing vaccines to combat these strains of the virus, however it is also important to continue practicing proper hand hygiene, socially distancing, wearing masks (doubling up when you can), and following public health guidelines to prevent infection and also prevent letting the virus further mutate.

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CDC Updates COVID-19 Quarantine Guidelines

The CDC recently updated quarantine guidelines, stating that those who are completely vaccinated—meaning they have received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and that it has been at least two weeks after their second dose—may not need to quarantine for 14 days if they have been exposed to or have been in direct contact with somebody who has COVID-19. This is if they meet the following criteria:

To clarify, the second point mentioning “within 3 months” is due to the available evidence on vaccines, which have only been proven to prevent disease within 3 months of being fully vaccinated. If it has been over 3 months since you have been fully vaccinated, then following full quarantine guidelines is still necessary. There are still many questions that have yet to be answered such as whether the vaccine prevents transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While these guidelines try to provide some flexibility for those who are vaccinated, the lack of other evidence and unanswered questions may continue to confuse folks, and it may be possible to to continue to spread the virus after being vaccinated. It will be incredibly important to continue practicing proper hand hygiene, properly wearing masks (and doubling up when possible), socially distancing, and following any other public health guidelines that mitigate risk of transmission.

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Person Detained by I.C.E. Dies in Custody

This week, Jesse Jerome Dean, Jr. died in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Battle Creek, Michigan. Dean, from the Bahamas, was admitted to the medical unit on February 4th after health complaints and was pronounced dead on February 5th. As of now, the death appears to be from natural causes, not related to COVID-19. An autopsy will be done by Calhoun County Medical Examiner and his death is being investigated by Michigan State Police, per protocol. Dean was released from a 30 year federal prison sentence on January 30th and detained by ICE on January 31st, but the reason for detainment has not been released. He is the 10th person in the country to die in ICE custody during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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SARS-CoV-2 Variants Update

A little over a week ago, a British minister announced that there are around 4,000 variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, around the world. A World Health Organization study showed that there are over 5,500 distinct variants. This includes every variant of the virus in the study and every unique mutation. While this number is concerning and shows how the SARS-CoV-2 virus may mutate, there are still only 3 primary variants of concern so far: the U.K., South African, and Brazil variants (named for the countries they were first discovered in). These 3 variants are concerning as they have been shown to be more transmissible than the other variants, however they have not been shown to be more likely to cause severe disease yet. While researchers have found thousands of variants, only the 3 variants noted above are known to have a significant impact on virus transmissibility, severity of disease, or ability to prevent via vaccines.

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This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):