Monday, 11 May 2020

Five things the TGD Community can do this winter to stay ahead of COVID-19

Five things the TGD Community can do this winter to stay ahead of COVID-19

As Australia begins to contemplate what a post COVID-19 world looks like its important for trans and gender diverse people to stay on top of their own health needs. On Friday Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy announced up coming changes that will effect the entire Australian community. While the states will roll out different changes at different times there has been a remarkable amount of cohesion in the message around COVID-19. That aside here is a  guide to transgender and gender diverse people on how to stay safe.

First: despite media headlines the Australian community is not even close to the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic. No matter how good the response of countries like Australia have been to flattening the curve, this virus remains and will remain a serious threat to all of us for years. If there’s one thing for TGD folk to keep in mind it’s this; an easing of lockdown is directly connected to our hospital’s capacity to deal with COVID-19 and in particular our ability to sustain an influx of critically ill patients without our intensive care unit’s being  swamped.  As we’ve seen in the UK, Italy, Spain and the US, when too many people need critical care at the same time the rate of COVID-19 mortality goes from under 5% to as high as 30% and even 40%. While stats remain hazy for TGD people, frontline service like the NSW Gender Centre see first hand how the combination of homelessness, under employment, isolation, discrimination from health professionals and being more susceptible to poor health leaves transgender people particularly vulnerable to a pandemic like COVID-19.  TGD folk then need to remain particularly vigilant in taking care of themselves. A relaxation of lockdown doesn’t mean the virus is beaten, not by a long shot, it means that we’re more able to deal with the fallout of its spread.

Second: act like there’s no vaccine coming anytime soon. A commonly discussed scenario about how COVID-19 plays out over the next few months and even years invariably comes back to a timetable where a vaccine is produced and then widely distributed. The earliest possible, best case scenario for the wide spread use of a vaccine in Australia is a year away as reported by CSL  (Commonwealth Serum Laboratory) Chief Medical Office Dr Charmaine Gittleson (amongst others). But there are several problems with this of which Dr Gittleson is quick to point out. A history of coronavirus’ resistance to vaccines. Vaccine trial processes normall taking 8 to 10 years and the emergence of new strains of coronavirus that most likely will require separate vaccines. All of this adds up to TGD people needing to be aware that we are in this for the long haul. But that might not necessarily be all bad.

Three: more funding and support for public health is good for TGD people. It has been extraordinary to watch how years of stalled funding into Australia’s public health system has been reversed almost over night. Life in a post COVID-19 world has definitely meant hardship for TGD people. Across Australian society mental health is being affected by restrictions on socialising, going out and especially being confined with our own families, though with wonderful exceptions like this.  Rates of domestic violence are on the increase and of course TGD people and families remain more susceptible to all kinds of violence across the board. But the unique thing about COVID-19 is that governments understand that if the most vulnerable members of society are not adequately cared for the virus will affect everyone. And because in reality COVID-19 is not going away any time soon, neither is the emphasis on properly supporting public health initiatives. 

Four: Lockdown is easing but COVID-19 isn’t. It’s fundamentally important that everyone keep up with social distancing, hand washing and not spreading illness. Before the pandemic it was common for people who were sick with colds or flu or simply feeling unwell to go to work, socialise or go to the shops. This is no longer acceptable. The most dangerous aspects of COVID-19  is the long lag time between infection and being symptomatic. In effect it means that though lockdown was relaxed this mother’s day, the knock on effect of COVID-19 won’t be understood until the end of May and by then we could again be behind the curve. Add to this that a large number of people are and will remain asymptomatic and you have a pandemic that requires us all to be patient, foster resilience and stay at home as much as possible. 

And finally, one of the best things that the TGD community could do in the time of COVID-19 is to get your flu shot. 

*If you are in a situation where domestic violence or the threat of violence is an issue, you should definitely be finding ways to stay safe and where possible get clear. The Gender Centre is available to talk to you about this.