Coronavirus 2019: What LGBTQ+ People Need to Know

The National LGBT Cancer Network is aware that LGBTQ+ people are likely worried about the potential impact of Coronavirus 2019 on their health. People at particular risk should talk to their health providers about their options for protecting themselves from infection.

Why are LGBTQ+ people at particular risk for Coronavirus 2019? 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus (LGBTQ+) people are at particular risk for Coronavirus disease 2019 (or COVID-19) as a result of several factors: 

We use tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population. Coronavirus 2019 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers. 

Higher rates of HIV and cancer among LGBTQ+ individuals mean that a greater number of us may have compromised immunity, leaving us more vulnerable to Coronavirus infection.

We continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes and lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings, and as a result, many of us are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent – and perhaps not even then.

LGBTQ+ people experience health disparities. Health disparities affect the potential Coronavirus 2019 impact on us in two ways: 

  1. Access to care barriers leaves us less likely to get medical care, and
  2. Existing health disparities mean more of us live in a state of compromised health. 

What can I do to avoid getting this coronavirus?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. 

If you are planning to travel, note all travel restrictions and advisories issued by Centers Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).

Stay tuned to alerts by your local or state health departments about advisories related to your region.

Avoid being within three feet of people who show symptoms of illness. Instead of kissing or shaking hands, consider bumping elbows or touching your heart in greeting.

While there is no accurate estimation of how long Coronavirus 2019 can remain infectious after virus droplets land on surfaces, similar Coronaviruses have shown they can remain infectious for up to nine days. (As comparison, a flu virus remains infectious for about 24 hours.) This means there is likely a greater risk of catching Coronavirus 2019 from a surface. 

Coronavirus does not get into our body through our skin, it gets into our body through  mucous membranes. The most common route of transmission is from the hands (which touch the infected surface) to the mucous membranes on our faces. One study of medical students showed they touched their faces on average 23 times every hour. While we cannot always control our exposure to the virus, we can control the behaviors that make it easier for this virus to get into our bodies. 

  1. Every time we wash our hands correctly, we kill any Coronavirus on our hands. This includes washing for at least 20 seconds with any type of soap, being sure to get all hand surfaces scrubbed. If soap is not available hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol will also work. 
  2. When we stop touching our face with our hands, we also interrupt the highway of transmission. It is thought that we touch our faces so often as a way to comfort ourselves. Start practicing changing this pattern now, it will help you avoid not just this Coronavirus, but many other common viral infections as well. Even something as simple as using a tissue to touch our face instead of our fingers can stop this transmission vector.
  3. A face mask is only recommended if you are ill, it is not effective in protecting you from becoming ill. 

Are there special precautions that LGBTQ+ people should take?

If an LGBTQ+ person has cancer, smokes, is HIV+, is over 65 years old, or has any other fragile health condition, consider taking additional measures to avoid risk of infection. This could include more vigilance about staying away from symptomatic people, it could include avoiding larger gatherings of people, and should definitely include practicing excellent epidemic hygiene, like frequent hand washing and breaking habits of face-touching. All smokers should know they can access free cessation services by calling or visiting 1-800-QUIT NOW

What should I do if I think I may have this coronavirus?

If you do not have a health provider you are comfortable with, there are several options for finding LGBTQ+ welcoming providers. 

  • GLMA has a directory of welcoming providers here
  • Human Rights Campaign lists welcoming hospitals and medical centers here
  • Federal Qualified Health Centers have been receiving guidance on how to be LGBTQ+ welcoming (and offer care for low income/uninsured persons). Find a local one here
  • The National LGBT Cancer Network has online directories for welcoming cancer screening and care providers. Find them here and here

Contact your oncologist or health provider if you have a fever and respiratory problems (such as a dry cough or trouble breathing), particularly if you have had contact with an infected person or traveled in an area known to have an outbreak. Tell them you are concerned you may have COVID-19, it will help them respond appropriately. 

As you travel to get health care, remember: 

  • Cover your mouth in some way so you do not unwittingly transmit to others, and 
  • Wash your own hands frequently and minimize touching common surfaces.

Staying home while you are sick is the best way to avoid further transmitting the disease to others. 

Background on Coronavirus 2019

Coronavirus disease 2019 (or COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that was first identified in an outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It is a respiratory illness that spreads from person to person through small droplets expelled when a person coughs or sneezes. 

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. They usually include a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Currently there is an estimated fatality rate of 3.4% for people with COVID-19; it is highest for men, people over 60, and smokers. We have no information what the fatality rate might be for people with HIV or other immunosuppressed individuals, like those undergoing cancer care.

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Taken from the National LGBT Cancer Network.