More states are watching out for LGBTQ health care disparities during the pandemic

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Advocacy groups and lawmakers have called on the federal government and state governments to collect the data to better understand the impact of the virus on LGBTQ people.

Health officials in Nevada announced this week that they are including data on sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the information they collect when a person tests positive for the coronavirus. Nevada joins California, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, which have all said they are tracking this information.

People who tested positive for the coronavirus in Nevada had been asked about their travel history and recent activities, said Julia Peek, an official with Nevada's public health department, and adding questions on sexual orientation and gender identity will help determine which communities are particularly at risk of contracting the virus.

Last week, California public health officials began to require that labs and health providers take voluntary information on sexual orientation and gender identity from patients who test positive for the coronavirus as well as other communicable diseases.

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Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, LGBTQ advocacy groups and lawmakers have called on the federal government and state governments to collect this information. In April, Alphonso David, the president of Human Rights Campaign, said every state should collect more data to better understand the impact of the virus on LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ lawmakers have also pushed for legislation to improve data collection. Scott Wiener, a Democratic California state senator, introduced a bill that would require electronic tools used by health officers to collect and report information about diseases to include data about sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill passed the state Senate in June, and on Wednesday it was passed out of the California Assembly Health Committee.

Dr. Laura E. Durso, executive director of the Whitman-Walker Institute, which focuses on education, policy, and research in LGBTQ health care issues, said it's necessary for states to collect this information because of the existing health disparities and greater economic instability experienced by members of the LGBTQ community even before the pandemic started.

Durso said that the government must track such data for coronavirus patients in order to further understand how the pandemic has potentially worsened LGBTQ people's health and economic status and to address these issues through government programs.

"We won't know if LGBTQ people are able to access COVID-19 testing or vaccines, have received economic supports, or are at risk of being evicted from their homes if we don't ask," Durso said. "Every state and the federal government should make it a priority to collect these data so that they can effectively reach LGBTQ people, save lives, and give community members a measure of accountability for those efforts."

Ty Cobb, senior director of strategic initiatives and research at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, said that although HRC gathers data through independent research on the economic impact of the pandemic on LGBTQ people, it has "virtually no data on the impact of the pandemic on our community's health."

Cobb said, "We need states to implement practices that allow us to collect accurate data on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ people. With data in hand, our allies in government can help fund and develop programs to truly stem the pandemic's effects on our community."

Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia are also collecting information on LGBTQ people and the coronavirus, but their health departments have not released any data yet. In May, Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the health department is working with a data collection platform to gather sexual orientation and gender identity data on people who test positive for the coronavirus.

"We are working to ensure that we are receiving this data, and to have representative data from individuals before we release it. Once we have this data in a more complete fashion, we will be working to release it," said Pennsylvania Department of Health press secretary Nate Wardle. "We have had some obstacles to collecting this data, and a number of data pieces as part of case investigation efforts. We need people to answer the phone and to provide complete and accurate information to the case investigators, as this is the best way to protect public health."

The District of Columbia's health department told the Washington Blade in April that it was tracking this information on coronavirus patients. In response to a request for comment on the department's progress, Alison Reeves, a D.C. Health spokesperson, said the agency is collecting the information but the data is still incomplete and will not be made public yet.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.