California’s Department of Public Health has announced it will begin collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity from patients suffering from COVID-19 or COVID-related illnesses, becoming only the second state in the nation to do so.
On Tuesday, State Secretary of Health and Human Services Mark Ghaly announced in a news conference that the Department of Public Health will require providers to collect and report the data, in addition to other factors such as race and ethnicity, to gauge the effect of the disease on the LGBTQ community.
According to The Washington Post, Ghaly praised the move as an important step toward identifying any health disparities that disproportionately affect LGBTQ individuals, and pursuing any required medical interventions that will prevent deaths or serious illnesses stemming from the disease.
The announcement comes after pressure from LGBTQ groups, including Equality California, and from politicians, including State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who introduced legislation in May to require that such data be collected.
Wiener’s bill was recently amended to cover up to 90 other communicable diseases, not just COVID-19. It has since passed the California Senate by unanimous vote, and is currently pending in committee in the Assembly.
Equality California praised the decision by the State Department of Public Health to begin collecting the LGBTQ data in a statement, while also urging the Assembly to pass Wiener’s bill codifying the data collection requirements into law.
“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 about it,” Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur said.
“From the beginning of this crisis, we have been clear: If LGBTQ+ people are left out of COVID-19 data, we will be left out of California’s data-driven response…. This data will finally give our government, our public health leaders and our community an understanding of the degree to which this pandemic is devastating LGBTQ+ people — and what steps need to be taken to save lives.”
LGBTQ advocates note that limited data appears to indicate that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts marginalized populations, including communities of color and those without insurance, including an estimate 1 in 6 LGBTQ people.
National organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign have claimed that because of higher rates of smoking, HIV/AIDS, cancer, and homelessness, as well as a higher number of people working in the service industry and other front-line jobs, LGBTQ people may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
In May, Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to collect data on patients’ sexual orientation or gender identity, at the behest of Gov. Tom Wolf (D).
Los Angeles County announced last month that it had begun collecting LGBTQ data for all patients who received a COVID-19 test through the county’s free testing program, but that data has not yet been reported through the county’s COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard.
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