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COVID breakthrough infections strike summer tourists visiting Provincetown

Dozens test positive for virus after weekend getaway

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Robert Coy, who came down with COVID after visiting Provincetown, said the breakthrough infections despite vaccinations are “a nice reminder that we're still kind of learning.”

Dozens of summer tourists who were among those visiting the gay resort town of Provincetown, Mass., over the weekend came back with more than beach memories and a tan: They tested positive for COVID-19 — even though they were vaccinated against the disease.

The surprise outbreak among individuals who did their public duty to get vaccinated is taking many observers aback at a time when Americans who refuse to get the shot, despite overwhelming evidence of safety and effectiveness in combatting coronavirus, are facing heavy criticism, which experts say precludes the nation from reaching herd immunity.

Robert Coy, a gay 28-year-old business strategist from Chicago, told the Washington Blade he tested positive for coronavirus on Monday after learning about mild symptoms among housemates during his visit to Provincetown.

“It was just kind of wild,” Coy said. “You went through the whole year-and-a-half of the pandemic and you got vaccinated and do what you’re supposed to do. There wasn’t really any negative pressure against traveling over the Fourth of July for a vaccinated person.”

Coy, who said he was vaccinated in April and is now largely asymptomatic aside from a mild cough, said finding out about the dozens of people who came down with coronavirus after visiting Provincetown despite being vaccinated was “really surprising.”

“Here in Chicago, I think it’s the same in D.C., but people are drawn out here on the dance floor until four in the morning on a Saturday night, and no one has really seemed to be affected,” Coy said. “So the whole experience was kind of unexpected.”

At the same time, Coy said he’s glad no severe cases were being reported and called the breakthrough outbreak “a nice reminder that we’re still kind of learning.”

To be sure, the anecdotal reports of COVID infections among vaccinated people who went to Provincetown doesn’t justify refusing the vaccine. All signs and evidence show COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, as medical experts continue to say as they try to convince Americans, many of whom are intransigent against the vaccine, to take their shots.

But the COVID breakthrough cases over a short period of time weren’t insignificant in number and put in stark relief the limitations of the vaccine in fully shielding people from coronavirus, including vulnerability from individuals spreading the disease by refusing shots and fears about the emerging Delta variant.

Kyle Blaine, a White House reporter for CNN, was among the more high-profile individuals who reported having contracted coronavirus after visiting Provincetown over the weekend.

“PSA: If you were in Provincetown last week and have cold/flu symptoms, please get tested for Covid,” Blain tweeted on Sunday. “My husband and I are fully vaccinated and tested positive yesterday. We’re OK — only mild symptoms so far. I know close to a dozen other vaccinated people who tested positive.”

Michael Ahrens, a 32-year-old gay D.C. resident who came down with coronavirus after spending a week in Provincetown, said he initially obtained a negative test result after returning from his vacation, then upon taking a second test Monday out of an abundance of caution tested positive for COVID.

“I think, in that moment, I wasn’t as surprised because I had started hearing about more people testing positive, but I really didn’t have any symptoms, so I was surprised because of that,” Ahrens said. “If you had told me a few days prior, that a bunch of fully vaccinated people were going to be testing positive for COVID, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

None of the coronavirus cases associated with visiting Provincetown appear to be life-threatening. The COVID patients who spoke with the Blade said they had mild symptoms such as fatigue and a mild cough, but exhibited no signs of major illness.

One person, however, said on Twitter in response to a local reporter’s public inquiry for stories he was among the breakthrough cases and had been hospitalized as a result of his condition. The individual didn’t immediately respond by Blade deadline to go on the record and elaborate further on the severity of his illness.

David Hardy, a Los Angeles-based scientific and medical consultant, said the breakthrough infections are “a difficult situation on which to comment due to the imprecise nature of the information available.”

“It would be highly surprising to discover that ‘dozens’ of fully vaccinated tourists (gay or straight) were becoming ill with COVID-19 after visiting P-Town,” Hardy said. “We know that all three vaccines given EUA status in the U.S. reduce the chance of contracting COVID-19 illnesses by 85 percent to 95 percent. Recent data from studies evaluating the new Delta variant becoming more common in the U.S. now show that these three vaccines still protect against COVID-19 illness.”

Hardy added, however, what isn’t known is whether the vaccines “prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19.”

“Limited data says that the chance of infection is reduced by ~70%-75% after vaccination, which is good but not great,” Hardy said. “Persons with asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection can still transmit the virus.”

A firm count on the number of tourists who went to Provincetown over the weekend and came back with coronavirus would be impossible. After all, individuals could have visited the resort over the weekend, returned home with COVID-19 and gotten their test result elsewhere or never got tested because they remain asymptomatic.

The number of coronavirus cases reported by the Barnstable County Department of Public Health last week was between 20 to 25 and more than half were “short-term visitors,” according to local WBZ reporter Louisa Moller.

Sean Holihan, a gay D.C. resident who visited Provincetown over the July 4th holiday, counted himself on Twitter among almost 30 tourists who came down with COVID as he cautioned against reading too much into the infections.

“Between myself and others, I know of nearly 30 breakthrough cases of Covid that came from visiting Provincetown for the 4th of July,” Holihan wrote. “In each and every situation, the symptoms were mild and no one required a hospital visit. The vaccine works.”

A Massachusetts Department of Health spokesperson said specific cases for Provincetown weren’t immediately available, but “breakthrough case numbers are incredibly low and cases in which the person was hospitalized or died are even lower.”

As of July 10, the total number of breakthrough cases reported to the Massachusetts Department of Health was 4,450 cases out of 4,195,844 vaccinated individuals, the spokesperson said. That fraction is 0.1 percent of vaccinated individuals.

“All available data continue to support that all three vaccines used in the U.S. are highly protective against severe disease and death from all known variants of COVID-19.,” the spokesperson said. “The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated.”

Having chosen a gay resort town for a vacation getaway, many of the tourists who went to Provincetown were members of the LGBTQ community and predominantly gay white men. COVID infection in a community that commonly holds progressive views runs counter to the narrative the virus is spreading among Trump-supporting Americans who refuse to get vaccinated despite assurances of safety and the dangers of contracting COVID.

Coronavirus would have ample opportunity to spread among the tourists in Provincetown. Beach parties during the day and club dancing at night, not to mention the close proximity of tourists cramming themselves into group homes to lower costs of their visit, would have been called “super-spreader” events at the peak of the pandemic.

At least one venue was strict about requiring proof of vaccination before allowing entry into the festivities, turning away those without vaccination cards or even cards showing proof of having taken one of two vaccine shots needed for full vaccination. Other venues, however, were lax at a time when Americans would be expected to have vaccinations before gathering in a large crowd and required no proof of immunity before allowing patrons to enter.

Additionally, a ferry tourists commonly use for travel between the Boston airport and the Provincetown resort was cancelled over the weekend due to inclement weather, forcing visitors to cram themselves in crowded buses to get to their destination without open air or social distancing protecting them from infection.

Despite having contracted the disease, the COVID patients who spoke to the Blade said coming down with the disease despite having been vaccinated has done nothing to change their views.

Coy said the coronavirus outbreak may be evidence the restrictions lifted in recent weeks were too many, too quick and more caution should be exercised.

“All the restrictions just kind of ripped away within such a short time span,” Coy said. “I don’t think there was any major caution encouraged as far as going out or as you’re traveling, like continuing to really be vigilant and stay within a small circle of people.”

Ahrens said having come down with coronavirus after receiving his vaccination has done nothing to dissuade him from his belief the vaccine is safe and effective.

“I followed guidance for fully vaccinated people and fortunately people who are vaccinated are having a much easier time fighting off COVID than people who are not vaccinated,” Ahrens said.

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article misspelled the name of Robert Coy. The Blade regrets the error.

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Federal prosecutors declined to prosecute 82% of hate crimes

DOJ report says ‘insufficient evidence’ was main cause

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U.S. Department of Justice

Federal prosecutors, who are referred to as United States Attorneys, declined to prosecute 82 percent of 1,864 suspects investigated for violating federal hate crime laws in all 50 states and D.C. during the years of 2005 to 2019, according to a newly released report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The 15-page report, released on July 8, cites insufficient evidence as the reason suspects were not prosecuted in 55 percent of the federal hate crime cases. The report says “prioritization of federal resources” was the reason for a decision not to prosecute 15 percent of the suspects. 

It says 13 percent of the suspects were not prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys because the suspect was “subject to the authority of another jurisdiction,” and another 13 percent were not prosecuted because the federal government lacked legal jurisdiction to file a hate crime charge. 

The report, entitled Federal Hate Crime Prosecutions, 2005-2019, does not disclose the category of the victims targeted for a hate crime by the suspects whose cases were or were not prosecuted. 

In its annual hate crimes report as required under the U.S. Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the FBI provides information on hate crimes based on a victim’s race/ethnicity/ancestry; religious affiliation; sexual orientation; gender identity; disability; and gender.

The FBI’s most recent hate crimes report released in November 2020, and which covers the year 2019, shows that hate crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation represented 16.8 percent the total number of hate crimes reported to the FBI for that year, the third largest category after race and religion. 

The FBI report shows that 4.8 percent of the total hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2019 were based on the victim’s gender identity. 

These figures suggest that at least some of the hate crimes cases that U.S. Attorneys declined to prosecute were cases involving LGBTQ people as victims. 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report also does not disclose whether or how many of the suspects who were not prosecuted for a hate crime violation were prosecuted for the underlying criminal offense that was investigated by federal prosecutors as a possible hate crime.

Law enforcement officials, including D.C. police officials, point out that a hate crime is not a crime in and of itself but instead is a designation added to an underlying crime such as assault, murder, destruction of property, and threats of violence among other criminal offenses. Most state hate crimes laws, including the D.C. hate crimes law, call for an enhanced penalty, including a longer prison sentence, for a suspect convicted of a crime such as murder or assault that prosecutors designate as a hate crime. 

Tannyr M. Watkins, a spokesperson for the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, told the Blade in response to a Blade inquiry that the bureau did not have access to data it received from U.S. Attorney’s offices throughout the country about whether hate crime suspects were prosecuted for an underlying crime when the U.S. Attorney’s declined to prosecute the suspect for a hate crime.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report released last month says that out of the 17 percent, or 310, of the hate crime suspects who were prosecuted between 2005-2019, 92 percent, or 284, whose cases were brought before a U.S. District Court, were convicted. And 85 percent of those convicted received a prison sentence, the report says. 

“Forty percent of the 284 hate crime convictions during 2005-2019 occurred in federal judicial districts in six states – New York (30), California (26), Texas (19), Arkansas (15), Tennessee (13), and Pennsylvania (12),” the report states. It says that during this 15-year period all but 10 states saw at least one hate crime conviction. In addition, there were two federal hate crime convictions in D.C. during that period, according to the report.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, unlike U.S. Attorneys in the 50 states, prosecutes criminal offenses under both D.C. law and federal law under D.C.’s limited home rule government. In the 50 states, most hate crimes are believed to be prosecuted by state and local prosecutors.

Former D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu has stated that the D.C. Office of the U.S. Attorney has prosecuted most criminal cases in which a hate crime arrest was made but the office dropped the hate crime designation due to lack of sufficient evidence. Liu said the office has continued to prosecute the suspect for the underlying charge, which often included a charge of assault or destruction of property.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report says U.S. Attorneys use five federal hate crimes related statutes to prosecute suspects for hate crimes. Among them is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which is the only federal hate crimes law that includes protections for LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ activists hailed the Shepard-Byrd law as an important breakthrough because it authorizes federal prosecutors to prosecute anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in states whose hate crimes laws do not cover hate crimes based on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Threats of violence and death shuts down Nebraska drag queen story hour

After discussions and consultations with Lincoln Police, the museum and the LGBTQ+ group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

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Screenshot of the Lincoln Children’s Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska. ABC News affiliate coverage

LINCOLN – A private LGBTQ+ event scheduled for after hours this past Saturday at the Lincoln Children’s Museum in Nebraska’s capital city was cancelled after the museum and the event’s organizers received a torrent of abusive violent threats including ones that were simply death threats.

Longtime local drag performer Waylon Werner-Bassen, who is the president of the board of directors of LGBTQ advocacy group OUTNebraska had organized the event alongside Drag Queen Story Hour Nebraska.

Bassen told the Lincoln Star-Journal in an interview last week on Tuesday that the scheduled RSVP only two-hour event, which was accessible through Eventbrite, had garnered a conformed attendee list of approximately 50 people.

Mandy Haase-Thomas, director of operations and engagement for the Lincoln Children’s Museum in an email the Star-Journal confirmed the event was invitation-only private, not sponsored by the museum and to be held after museum’s open-to-the-public hours.

According to Bassen, immediately after the event was announced the threats commenced, some of which included death threats. After discussions and consultations with officials from the Lincoln Police Department, the Lincoln Children’s Museum and Bassen’s group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

Officer Luke Bonkiewicz, a spokesperson for the LPD said that the matter was under investigation and as such would not comment other than to acknowledge that the threats were found to be credible.

In an Instagram post the museum expressed its dismay over the event’s cancellation.

Community reaction was swift and uniformly in support of OutNebraska and the dreg queen story hour event with the city’s Mayor weighing in along with a supervisor with the Lincoln Police Department.

The ACLU of Nebraska along with other supporters which included state lawmakers Senator Adam Morfeld and Senator Tony Vargas also weighed in.

OutNebraska and the museum have both stated that they will reschedule the event. In a Facebook post Out Nebraska noted: “We look forward to working with Lincoln Children’s Museum to reschedule this as an entirely private event. It’s so sad when hate threatens families with children. All parents want their children to be safe. Because we could not be certain that it would be safe we will cancel this weekend and reschedule for another time — this time without a public portion of the invitation. We will be in touch with the families who have already registered with more information about when we are rescheduling.”

In related news the LPD not only recently celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month, but the designated person nominated at the end of June by the Mayor to be the department’s new Chief, is SFPD Commander Teresa Ewins, the San Francisco California Police Department’s highest-ranking LGBTQ member.

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FBI joins investigation into murder of LGBTQ Atlantan

Atlanta Police continue to search for the suspect in the deadly stabbing of a woman asking that anyone with information to please come forward

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Katie Janness and her dog Bowie via Facebook

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Police Department’s murder investigation into this past Wednesday’s stabbing death of 40-year-old Katie Janness and her dog in Piedmont Park, located about 1 mile northeast of downtown between the Midtown and Virginia Highland neighborhoods, has been joined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, (FBI).

WXIA 11 Alive news reported that the FBI is assisting the Atlanta Police Department, (APD) however a spokesperson for the APD told WXIA the department wouldn’t provide any specifics about the FBI’s involvement with the investigation, nor did the Atlanta Field Office of the FBI comment. 

The Georgia Voice, the local LGBTQ newspaper, reported that Janness, a member of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community and a bartender at the LGBTQ-owned Campagnolo, was found stabbed to death in the park on Wednesday (July 28) after walking her dog Bowie, who was also killed.

Janness was found by her partner of six years, Emma Clark, after Clark tracked her with her phone’s GPS.

“Today, I lost the love of my life and baby boy,” Clark said in a post shared to a GoFundMe page. “It was tragic. She was the most intelligent, kind, humble, and beautiful person I have ever known. I wanted to spend every second with her. [Bowie] was the sweetest, most loyal companion. My heart is so very broken, my world will never be the same.”

A vigil was held for Janness on Thursday evening at Piedmont Park.

Atlanta Police continue to search for the suspect in a deadly stabbing of a woman in Piedmont Park

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Janness’ murder is believed to be the first homicide inside the park in 12 years and according to family members of Janness’ longtime girlfriend, a security camera at an intersection near the park’s entrance captured the last known picture of Katherine Janness and her dog before the two were killed.

But other cameras in the area weren’t working, including one facing the entrance. As of Friday the AJC also reported, as of Friday afternoon, Atlanta police had released few details about the murder investigation that has left city residents and parkgoers on edge.

Atlanta Police are asking that anyone with information to please come forward, and tipsters can remain anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.

APD detectives are also asking those who live in this area to review footage from their security cameras and contact the police if they find anything that may be pertinent to this investigation. The timeframe for review should be between 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday to 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

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