Metro Weekly

Over 300,000 transgender people at high risk of serious COVID-19 illness

Researchers noted a number of factors that increase trans adults' risk of serious COVID-19 illness

trans, transgender, covid-19, coronavirus, lgbtq
Source: Ted Eytan – Flickr

A new study suggests that nearly 320,000 transgender adults in the United States are at risk of serious COVID-19 illness.

Researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law examined the characteristics that may increase vulnerability for adults in the U.S. who identify as transgender.

Using data from the U.S. Transgender Population Health Survey, researchers identified an estimated 319,800 trans Americans with one or more medical conditions — including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and HIV — which the CDC says can increase risk for COVID-19.

Among the findings, more than 200,000 transgender adults have asthma, 81,100 have diabetes, and almost 75,000 are living with HIV.

In addition, an estimated 217,000 trans adults are 65 and older, a factor the CDC says also puts them at greater risk of more severe reactions to COVID-19.

“A substantial portion of transgender adults, about 361,400, report being in fair or poor health, a measure that is associated with a variety of poor health outcomes,” the study states. “Additionally, 278,400 transgender adults are current smokers, which also increases the risk for serious COVID-19 illness.”

Beyond health factors, researchers also noted economic vulnerabilities and other characteristics that could increase the risks transgender people face during the pandemic.

Almost 138,000 trans adults have no health insurance, with 450,400 adults saying they had not visited the doctor in the past year because they could not afford it.

Around 377,000 adults reporting experiencing homelessness in the past year, which decreases the ability to carry out social distancing or regular handwashing, increasing the risk of exposure to the virus.

The study also noted that “home may not be a safe place for many individuals, particularly transgender individuals.”

“Many transgender people experience conflict or rejection from their families due to their gender identity,” researchers noted, while stay-at-home orders “may place transgender people in situations where they must shelter with family members who do not accept their gender identity and may place transgender people at added risk for intimate partner violence.”

In turn, “public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, may exacerbate existing risk factors for suicide,” with the study noting that more than four in ten transgender adults had reported attempting suicide in their lifetimes.

“In addition to age and health, social and economic conditions can contribute to mental and physical vulnerabilities related to the pandemic,” Jody L. Herman, scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “Transgender people are disproportionately affected by poverty, homelessness, suicide thoughts and attempts, and a lack of health insurance, which puts this population at added risk.”

Co-author Kathryn O’Neill, policy analyst at the Williams Institute, added: “This report underscores the need for outreach and services for the transgender population, who face significant challenges to COVID-19 and its related social and economic impact.”

The Human Rights Campaign has previously warned of COVID-19’s impact on black and LGBTQ communities, with HRC President Alphonso David calling on state and federal governments to collect more data on the effects of the virus on those communities.

David also urged Congress to take those disparities into account when crafting any future stimulus bills, noting that “the most vulnerable are the most at risk during the COVID-19 crisis.”

HRC previously published a research brief outlining what it sees as health and economic risks facing the LGBTQ community amid the pandemic.

For instance, the organization has noted that LGBTQ people are more likely to work in jobs that are either affected by shutdowns related to the coronavirus, such as K-12 education, higher education, or “non-essential” retail businesses, or in “front-line” jobs that make it difficult for them to socially distance, such as in the health care or food service industries.

Additionally, HRC and a number of other LGBTQ advocacy organizations penned an open letter pointing to health disparities that make the LGBTQ community more vulnerable to COVID-19.

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