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It’s hard to keep up with the latest news about COVID.  Even by the time this blog post is published, it will be “old news.”  But don’t stop reading!  FORGE held a virtual event on January 4, 2022, to help our community stay safer.  You can find the full recording of the event here. This post recaps a few key points from the online event.

The event featured the expertise of Donna Whittle, MD, and Ericka Sinclair, MS, MPH. Ericka Sinclair is the Founder and CEO of Health Connections Inc. in the Milwaukee, WI –area. Health Connections “is a non-profit organization bringing health care services to some of Milwaukee’s most vulnerable populations” including transgender people. Donna Whittle is an infectious disease specialist at Aurora Health Care.

“Those are our tools: we have testing, we have masks, we have each other. Let’s take advantage of all of them.” –Erica Sinclair, MS, MPH, Health Connections, Inc.


The Big Picture

Dr. Donna Whittle started off the presentation by reviewing the ever-changing landscape of COVID rates, (which appear increasingly steep and mountainous on graphs like this one.) For the latest rates in your region go here: In many areas of the country, positivity rates are around 3000/100,000.

Dr. Whittle contextualized these rates by describing the odds someone will be exposed to COVID in different settings. See the image below.

IMAGE: Risk estimates. Image description: a table entitled “estimates of a risk of someone in a group having COVID.” The top rows are “community burden,” and the right-most column is “group size.” For a group of 5: with a burden of 1000 in 100,000, the risk is 5%; with 2000/100,000, 10%; and with 3000/100,000, 14%. For a group of 10: with a burden of 1000/100,000, 10%; 2000/100,000, 19%; and 3000/100,000, 26%. For a group of 20: with a burden of 1000/100,000, the risk is 19%, 2000/100,000, 19%; and 3000/100,000, 46%. For a group of 25: with a burden of 1000/100,000, the risk is 23%; with 2000/100,000, 40%; and 3000/100,000, 53%. Finally, for a group of 50, with a burden of 1000/1000, the risk is 40%; with a burden of 2000/100,000, the risk is 64%; and for 3000/100,000, the risk is 78%.


The bottom-line message?  Gather in VERY small groups if you are going to be with other people at all!

When you are evaluating your own risks and choices, think about:

  • How many people are gathering,
  • How much talking/singing/breathing heavily will be taking place, and
  • How much time you spend in the space.

The lower the answers to these questions, the potentially safer the environment.

Not vaccinated yet?

It is not too late to get vaccinated.  Being fully vaccinated means 2 shots of Pfizer or Moderna AND a booster shot.  You can find vaccination sites in your community by going to: www.Vaccine.gov and  www.Impact211


Where can I go to get tested?

If you have been exposed/possibly exposed to a person with COVID, if you are traveling, or if you have other concerns about if you or a loved one are positive for COVID – get tested!   The Biden administration has made this a bit easier as of January 2022, requiring insurance companies and group health insurance plans to cover the cost of at-home COVID tests. Check out your health insurance policy to learn how to get free tests.

Other places to get free testing are in your community.  Check out the Health and Human Services website to find a location nearest you.

I’m confused about if I should isolate when I’ve been exposed?  And for how long?

It’s worth noting that many public health experts advise going beyond the current CDC guidelines. Ericka Sinclair, for example, suggests isolating even if the rapid test is positive and the PCR test is negative. It’s best to stay home with any illness anyway, she added.

“We should all be masking all the time regardless,” said Ericka. Masking with the best quality masks may feel claustrophobic for some folks (including our presenters!)

What kind of mask should I be wearing?

In addition to isolation recommendations, guidance on masks has changed too.  It can be confusing.  Keep in mind that wearing masks are still very important to helping keep everyone safer.  Outside of your home, people are encouraged to wear masks while indoors, and outdoors, too, if you are around other people.  Any mask is better than no mask!

Remember a harm reduction principle of doing the best you can with what you have access to.

N95 masks > KN94 > double mask > single surgical mask > no mask.

mask harm reduction

Masks can be expensive. Whether you are pro- or anti-government, the Biden Administration is working hard to make high quality masks freely available to every person in the United States.  Keep an eye out for emerging news on where and how to access free masks.

Trans-Specific COVID Concerns

Trans women/femmes might have some increased COVID-related risks.  Trans women/femmes who use estrogen are more likely to experience blood clots than those who don’t use estrogen.  When a trans woman/femme who uses estrogen contracts COVID, she is more likely to develop blood clots related to COVID.  If you are on estrogen – regardless of your gender identity – you can reduce your risk by making sure you move your body regularly, wear compression socks, or adhere to any cardiovascular medications you are currently on.  Because smoking also increases the likelihood of clotting, smoking less can also reduce the risks of clotting.

It’s possible that trans women/femmes on hormones have an even higher risk of blood clots with COVID than the general population. To reduce your risk, make sure you get up and move.

Getting vaccinated usually involves presenting an ID, but trans folks may have IDs that don’t match how they currently look. In a discussion of how to cope with that situation, workshop leaders discussed bringing a note of explanation to pass to the person administering the shot, as well as bringing friends for moral support.

Trans folks face disproportionate health risks, but like so many people, they may also be nervous about the risk of contracting COVID when accessing preventive or maintenance health care. Telehealth offers one solution to help folks continue to receive healthcare. You can do as much as you can by phone and come into the office for remaining concerns such as lab work. Dr. Whittle also pointed out that now is a great time to schedule appointments with providers for after this wave of COVID subsides.

Social support is important for everyone and especially critical for already marginalized folks like trans people. Ericka helpfully encouraged having open Zoom drop-in times with friends because spaces like that can foster connection without pressure.

More info? View the recorded workshop

You can learn more from Donna Whittle, MD, and Ericka Sinclair, MS, MPH in the archived workshop recording herehttps://youtu.be/c3XzU5tz9_k