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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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National

Activists demand ICE release transgender, HIV-positive detainees

Protest took place outside agency’s D.C. headquarters on Wednesday

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Jessycka Ckatallea Letona, an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who spent nearly two years in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, participated in a protest in front of ICE's headquarters in Southwest D.C. on Oct. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jessycka Ckatallea Letona is an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who fled persecution in her homeland because of her gender identity.

She asked for asylum in the U.S. in 2016 when she entered the country in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Ckatallea on Wednesday told the Washington Blade that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials placed her in a pod with 70 men at a privately-run detention center in Florence, Ariz. She also said personnel at another ICE detention center in Santa Ana, Calif., ridiculed her because of her gender identity and forced her to strip naked before she attended hearings in her asylum case.

Ckatallea spent a year and eight months in ICE custody before her release. She won her asylum case and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It was a very traumatic experience,” said Ckatallea as she spoke with the Blade in front of ICE’s headquarters in Southwest D.C. “I came to a country thinking that it would take care of me, that it would protect me because of my gender identity.”

Ckatallea is one of the more than a dozen immigrant rights activists who participated in a protest in front of ICE’s headquarters that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention campaign organized. Ckatallea, Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris and other protest participants demanded ICE immediately release trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from their custody.

The groups placed on the sidewalk in front of the building a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” to honor three trans women—Victoria Orellano, Roxsana Hernández and Johana “Joa” Medina León—who died in ICE custody or immediately after their release. The “ofrenda” also paid tribute to Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, a Venezuelan man with AIDS who died in ICE custody on Oct. 1.

Immigrant rights activists on Oct. 27, 2021, placed a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” outside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Southwest D.C. that honored three transgender women and a man with AIDS who died while in ICE custody or immediately upon their release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ckatallea, Morris and the other protesters approached the building’s entrance and presented security personnel with a petition that calls upon President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “immediately release all transgender people, people living with HIV, and people with medical conditions from ICE custody.”

ICE has repeatedly defended its treatment of trans people and people with HIV/AIDS who are in their custody.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center, the same privately-run facility in which Gotopo was held until his hospitalization. The person with whom the Blade spoke described conditions inside the detention center as “not safe” because personnel were not doing enough to protect them and other detainees from COVID-19.

Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is among the dozens of lawmakers who have called for the release of all trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from ICE custody. The Illinois Democrat on Tuesday reiterated this call during a virtual briefing that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention Campaign organized.

“ICE’s clear inability to do better leads me to seek to end of ICE’s detention of all trans migrants,” said Quigley. “During both the Trump and Biden administration I led dozens of my colleagues to demand that ICE release transgender detainees and end its practice of holding trans migrants in custody. We had hoped that things would change with the new administration, so far I’m disappointed.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also participated in the briefing alongside Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford and Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress and others.

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Texas

Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott signs anti-Trans youth sports bill

“Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids & adults- the emails to the Governor to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law”

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Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott (Blade file screenshot)

AUSTIN – Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Monday H.B. 25, an anti-Transgender youth sports bill banning Trans K-12 student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. 

H.B. 25 is the 9th statewide bill signed into law this year banning transgender youth from participating in school sports and the 10th in the country. This bill also comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

“We are devastated at the passage of this bill. Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids and adults, families and advocates, and the many emails and calls our community placed to the Governor’s office to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said.

“Most immediately, our focus is our community and integrating concepts of healing justice to provide advocates who have already been harmed by this bill with spaces to refill their cup and unpack the acute trauma caused by these legislative sessions. Our organizations will also begin to shift focus to electing pro-equality lawmakers who understand our issues and prioritize representing the vast majority of Texans who firmly believe that discrimination against trans and LGB+ people is wrong,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Texas state government was criticized for removing web pages with resources for LGBTQ youth, including information about The Trevor Project’s crisis services. The Trevor Project the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

“Transgender and nonbinary youth are already at higher risk for poor mental health and suicide because of bullying, discrimination, and rejection. This misguided legislation will only make matters worse,” Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

To every trans Texan who may be feeling hurt and attacked by this legislation and months of ugly political debate — please know that you are valid, and you are deserving of equal opportunity, dignity and respect. The Trevor Project is here for you 24/7 if you ever need support, and we will continue fighting alongside a broad coalition of advocates to challenge this law,” Paley said.

********************

Additional resources:

Research consistently demonstrates that transgender and nonbinary youth face unique mental health challenges and an elevated risk for bullying and suicide risk compared to their peers.  

  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. 
  • A newly published research brief on “Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth,” found that 61% of transgender and nonbinary (TGNB) students reported being bullied either in-person or electronically in the past year, compared to 45% of cisgender LGBQ students. TGNB students who were bullied in the past year reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not. And TGNB students who said their school was LGBTQ-affirming reported significantly lower rates of being bullied (55%) compared to those in schools that weren’t LGBTQ-affirming (65%).
  • A 2020 peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience discrimination based on their gender identity.
  • Trevor’s research has also found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (68%) had never participated in sports for a school or community league or club — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678.

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National

Ohio high school cancels play with Gay character after Pastor complains

The School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month until the play was canceled

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Hillsboro High School (Screenshot via Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO-TV)

HILLSBORO, Oh. — A Southwest Ohio high school’s play was abruptly canceled after Jeff Lyle, a local pastor from Good News Gathering, complained of a gay character. 

Hillsboro High School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month, until students learned the play would be canceled last week, reports Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate WCPO

The story follows a high school senior as she learns about her late sister’s life. It is implied throughout the play that her sister is gay, according to the news station.

The play’s cancellation comes a week after Lyle, a long-time voice of the anti-LGBTQ+ religious-right in Ohio, and a group of parents confronted the production’s directors at a meeting, according to Cincinnati CBS affiliate Local 12. Lyle denies pressuring school officials, but tells WCPO he supports the decision.

“From a Biblical worldview this play is inappropriate for a number of reasons, e.g. sexual innuendo, implied sexual activity between unmarried persons, repeated use of foul language including taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Lyle said. 

Some families say they believe Lyle did influence the school’s decision. 

“I think that’s wrong,” Jon Polstra, a father of one of the actors, told WCPO. “All they would have had to do if they objected to something in the play was not go to the play.”

In a statement to Local 12, Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said the play was canceled because it “was not appropriate for our K-12 audience.”

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the school planned to perform a version intended for audiences as young as 11 years old. 

Students were “devastated” and “blindsided” by the news, according to WCPO. 

“It felt like we had just been told, ‘Screw off and your lives don’t matter,'” Christopher Cronan, a Hillsboro High student, said. “I am openly bisexual in that school and I have faced a lot of homophobia there, but I never expected them to cancel a play for a fictional character.”

Cronan’s father, Ryan, also voiced his frustration. 

“They want to say the town is just not ready, but how are you not ready? It’s 2021,” Ryan Cronan said.

Students have started a GoFundMe in hopes of putting on the production at a community theater in 2022.

“If we do raise enough money, I am going to be genuinely happy for a very long time, because that means people do care,” Cronan told WCPO.

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