Transgender adults in Florida `blindsided’ that new law also limits their access to health care

Transgender adults in Florida `blindsided’ that new law also limits their access to health care

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

Debate surrounding Florida’s new restrictions on gender-affirming care focused largely on transgender children. But a new law that Republican presidential candidate and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last month also made it difficult – even impossible – for many transgender adults to get treatment.

Eli and Lucas, trans men who are a couple, followed the discussions in the Legislature, where Democrats warned that trans children would be more prone to suicide under a ban on gender-affirming care for minors and Republicans responded with misplaced tales of mutilated kids. Eli said he and his partner felt “blindsided” when they discovered the bill contained language that would also disrupt their lives.

“There was no communication. … Nobody was really talking about it in our circles,” said Eli, 29.

Like many transgender adults in Florida, he and Lucas are now facing tough choices, including whether to uproot their lives so that they can continue to access gender-confirming care. Clinics are also trying to figure out how to operate under regulations that have made Florida a test case for restrictions on adults.

Lucas, 26, lost his access to treatment when the Orlando clinic that prescribed him hormone replacement therapy stopped providing gender-affirming care altogether. The couple also worries about staying in a state that this year enacted several other bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

“My entire life is here. All my friends, my family. I just got a promotion at my job, which I’m probably not to be able to keep,” Lucas, who works in a financial aid office at a college, said. “I’m losing everything except Eli and my pets moving out of here. So this was not a decision that I took lightly at all.”

The Associated Press is not using Eli’s and Lucas’ last names because they fear reprisal. While their friends and families know they are trans, most people who meet them do not.

The new law that bans gender-affirming care for minors also mandates that adult patients seeking trans health care sign an informed consent form. It also requires a physician to oversee any health care related to transitioning, and for people to see that doctor in person. Those rules have proven particularly onerous because many people received care from nurse practitioners and used telehealth. The law also made it a crime to violate the new requirements.

Another new law that allows doctors and pharmacists to refuse to treat transgender people further limits their options.

“For trans adults, it’s devastating,” said Kate Steinle, chief clinical officer at FOLX Health, which provides gender-affirming care to trans adults through telemedicine. Her company decided to open in-person clinics and hire more physicians licensed in Florida in order to continue to provide care to patients who have already enrolled, even though that represents a major change to the company’s business model.

Eli has been seeing a physician for years and therefore still has access to care. But SPEKTRUM Health Inc., the Orlando clinic that prescribed Lucas hormone replacement therapy, has stopped providing gender-affirming care.

“There are a lot of people looking for care that we’re no longer legally able to provide,” said Lana Dunn, SPEKTRUM Health’s chief operating officer.

Florida has the second-largest population of transgender adults in the U.S., at an estimated 94,900 people, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. It used state-level, population-based surveys to determine its estimates. Not all transgender people seek medical interventions.

At least 19 states have now enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. But restrictions on adults haven’t been part of the conversation in most places. Missouri’s attorney general tried to impose a rule in that state, but it was pulled back.

Florida is “the proving ground of what they can get away with,” Dunn said.

Her organization treats about 4,000 people — most in Florida and some out-of-state telehealth patients, she said. While SPEKTRUM has bolstered its mental health services since the law passed, it and other organizations heavily rely on nurse practitioners to provide care.

Dunn estimates that 80% of trans adults in the state were getting their health care from a nurse practitioner and now have lost access.

“Right now what we’re seeing in the community is just chaos,” Dunn said.

The law also contains language that she said could scare off doctors who would be otherwise willing to treat trans patients, such as a 20-year statute of limitations to sue over care they provide.

As a trans woman herself, Dunn is grappling with losing her own access to hormones while trying to provide support to terrified patients. That’s taken “a significant emotional toll,” she said.

“Not only am I faced with this lack of care for myself but a lot of people within the community are also facing the same thing, and they’re reaching out to me for guidance,” Dunn said. “So I’m doing my best to help guide people and console them, but nobody’s really reaching out to me saying, ’How are you doing? Are you OK?’”

Lucas, who transitioned eight years ago when he was 18, anticipates running out of hormone treatments in June. In the best case scenario he can foresee now, he will be able to get a new prescription in August. He fears he might start to get his period again.

“It’s just going to be extremely difficult mentally to have your body changing in a way that doesn’t align with your brain,” Lucas said.

Eli and Lucas have switched to a month-to-month lease and tentatively plan to relocate to Minnesota in November. They said they would leave sooner if they can afford it and started an online fundraiser to help. Moving with their dog and two cats increases the expense and difficulty of finding a new place.

“I just never thought it could happen this way, this fast and to us,” Eli said.


Beaty reported from New York City and Schoenbaum reported from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Court rules Austria can’t be held liable for early COVID infection at ski resort

Court rules Austria can’t be held liable for early COVID infection at ski resort

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

An Austrian federal court said Thursday that the state can’t be held liable for a COVID-19 infection from an outbreak at an Alpine ski resort as the pandemic hit Europe in early 2020.

The Supreme Court of Justice announced its verdict in a long-running legal battle involving a German resident who traveled to Ischgl on March 7, 2020 and visited several apres-ski venues before returning home six days later. He experienced the first coronavirus symptoms shortly afterward.

The plaintiff sought damages and a ruling that the Austrian federal government was liable for harm to him resulting directly or indirectly from authorities’ errors or failings connected to the “mismanagement” of COVID-19 in Tyrol province in late February and early March 2020.

The outbreak in Ischgl, a popular resort in western Austria, was considered one of Europe’s earliest “super-spreader” events of the pandemic.

An independent commission concluded in late 2020 that authorities in Tyrol acted too slowly to shut down ski resorts after it became clear they were dealing with one of Europe’s first coronavirus outbreaks. But the panel didn’t find evidence that political or business pressure played a role in the decision.

The federal court found that the regional government gave incorrect information in a March 5, 2020 statement suggesting that Icelandic passengers who had flown from Munich to Reykjavik and then tested positive were infected on the plane rather than in Tyrol. In fact, the court said in its May 15 verdict, authorities had already had an indication that at least one man developed symptoms before flying home.

However, it said that incorrect information would be a grounds for liability only if it created a “basis of trust” that would induce people to make faulty decisions. That wasn’t the case because the statement in question was formulated vaguely and in the subjunctive, noting that the evaluation was based on initial information and further clarification was in progress, the court found.

It also upheld lower courts’ findings that authorities’ obligations under anti-epidemic laws were designed “exclusively to protect the general public.”

The legal director of Austria’s Consumer Protection Association, Peter Kolba, said the verdict was “a deep disappointment” for people from 45 countries, some of whom he said “suffered severe damage because of the mistakes of authorities in Tyrol.”

He said in a statement that the association would examine the court’s decision carefully and consider further action for damages against the Austrian state.

UK government faces deadline to hand Boris Johnson’s messages to coronavirus inquiry

UK government faces deadline to hand Boris Johnson’s messages to coronavirus inquiry

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

The British government is facing a Thursday afternoon deadline to hand over a sheaf of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s personal messages to the country’s COVID-19 pandemic inquiry — or face legal action from a probe that Johnson himself set up.

The notebooks, diaries and WhatsApp messages between Johnson and other officials form key evidence that the head of the probe, retired judge Heather Hallett, wants to see.

But the government is worried about the precedent that disclosing Johnson’s full, unredacted conversations might set. It has handed over incomplete versions, saying it cut personal and private information that was not relevant to the investigation.

Hallett, however, said “the entire contents of the specified documents are of potential relevance to the lines of investigation being pursued by the inquiry.”

Hallett — who has the power to summon evidence and question witnesses under oath — set a deadline of 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) Thursday for the government to hand over the documents, covering a two-year period from early 2020.

The issue has caused tension between Johnson and the current government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, which claimed this week that it did not have the material Hallett wanted.

On Wednesday, Johnson’s office said the former prime minister had given the government all the material and urged authorities to hand it to the inquiry.

The U.K. has recorded more than 200,000 deaths among people testing positive for COVID-19, one of the highest tolls in Europe, and the decisions of Johnson’s government have been endlessly debated. Johnson agreed in late 2021 to hold an inquiry after pressure from bereaved families.

Hallett’s inquiry is due to investigate the U.K.’s preparedness for a pandemic, how the government responded and whether the “level of loss was inevitable or whether things could have been done better.” Public hearings are scheduled to start June 13, and Johnson is among the senior officials due to give evidence.

US births in 2022 didn’t return to pre-pandemic levels

US births in 2022 didn’t return to pre-pandemic levels

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

U.S. births were flat last year, as the nation saw fewer babies born than it did before the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

Births to moms 35 and older continued to rise, with the highest rates in that age group since the 1960s. But those gains were offset by record-low birth rates to moms in their teens and early 20s, the CDC found. Its report is based on a review of more than 99% of birth certificates issued last year.

A little under 3.7 million babies were born in the U.S. last year, about 3,000 fewer than the year before. Because the numbers are provisional and the change was small, officials consider births to have been “kind of level from the previous year,” said the CDC’s Brady Hamilton, the lead author of the report.

U.S. births were declining for more than a decade before COVID-19 hit, then dropped a whopping 4% from 2019 to 2020. They ticked up about 1% in 2021, an increase experts attributed to pregnancies that couples had put off amid the early days of the pandemic.

More findings from the report:

— The highest birth rates continue to be see in women in their early 30s. The number of births for women that age was basically unchanged from the year before. Births were down slightly for women in their late 20s, who have the second-highest birth rate.

— Births to Hispanic moms rose 6% last year and surpassed 25% of the U.S. total. Births to white moms fell 3%, but still accounted for 50% of births. Births to Black moms fell 1%, and were 14% of the total.

— The cesarean section birth rate rose slightly, to 32.2% of births. That’s the highest it’s been since 2014. Some experts worry that C-sections are done more often than medically necessary.

— The U.S. was once among only a few developed countries with a fertility rate that ensured each generation had enough children to replace itself — about 2.1 kids per woman. But it’s been sliding, and in 2020 dropped to about 1.6, the lowest rate on record. It rose slightly in 2021, to nearly 1.7, and stayed there last year.

More complete and detailed 2022 numbers are expected later this year. That data should offer a better understanding of what happened in individual states and among different racial and ethnic groups, Hamilton said.

It also may show whether births were affected by the U.S. Supreme Court decision last June overturning Roe v. Wade, which allowed states to ban or restrict abortion. Experts estimate that nearly half of pregnancies are unintended, so limits to abortion access could affect the number of births.

If such restrictions are having an affect on births, it didn’t show up in the national data released Thursday.

It’s possible the abortion restrictions will lead to higher births rates in 2023 — more likely among younger women than older moms, said Ushma Upadhyay, a reproductive health researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. But even if there is a rise, it may not bring the nation back to pre-pandemic birth levels, given other trends, she added.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get back there,” she said.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Former Connecticut lawmaker gets 27 months in prison for stealing coronavirus aid

Former Connecticut lawmaker gets 27 months in prison for stealing coronavirus aid

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

A former Connecticut state representative was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Wednesday for stealing more than $1.2 million from the city of West Haven — most of it in federal coronavirus-related aid — and using a good chunk of it to fuel his gambling addiction.

“I stole that money. That is on me,” Michael DiMassa said as he apologized during his sentencing before Judge Omar Williams.

“It’s hard to find the word to express how I feel. I feel ashamed, embarrassed, mortified,” the West Haven Democrat said.

DiMassa, 32, had asked for leniency. He could have gotten more than four years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. He was ordered to report to prison on July 31 and remains free on bond.

“Mr. DiMassa suffered from a debilitating gambling addiction at the time of the offense,” his lawyer, John Gulash, wrote in a court filing, “and his essentially unfettered access to a deep pool of federal funds and total lack of impulse control facilitated his precipitous downward spiral.”

The lawyer compared DiMassa to Howard Ratner, the gambler played by Adam Sandler in the movie “Uncut Gems.” He said he bet on things as frivolous as how long the national anthem would take to perform at the Super Bowl, or what color Gatorade would be poured on the winning coach.

He did much of his gambling and betting at the Mohegan Sun casino in eastern Connecticut.

At the time of the thefts, which began in mid-2020, DiMassa was both a state representative and an aide to the West Haven City Council, with authority to approve reimbursements for coronavirus-related expenses. He pleaded guilty in November to three counts of wire fraud conspiracy, admitting that he and others billed West Haven for legal, lobbying and consulting services that were never provided.

DiMassa and a business partner, John Bernardo, also a former West Haven city employee, pilfered nearly $637,000, prosecutors said.

Bernardo pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced to 13 months in prison in March.

In a second scheme, DiMassa and another business owner, John Trasacco, conspired to submit fraudulent invoices from Trasacco’s companies to the city, netting nearly $432,000 in COVID-19 aid. Nearly all of that went to Trasacco, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in March after a jury convicted him of fraud.

The final conspiracy involved DiMassa and his wife, Lauren DiMassa, and the theft of nearly $148,000, authorities said. The couple submitted phony requests for payments by the city related to a youth violence prevention program. Those pilfered funds were not federal coronavirus aid.

Lauren DiMassa, who is pregnant with the couple’s second child, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced in March to six months in prison. She recently reported to prison.

In addition to his prison sentence, Michael DiMassa was ordered to pay nearly $866,000 in restitution to the city of West Haven. His codefendants were ordered to pay restitution to make up the rest of the stolen money.

“The defendant was a public official elected to serve his constituents,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing documents. “Instead, he completely betrayed that trust by stealing public funds for his own benefit.”

DiMassa resigned from the Legislature and the city of West Haven after his arrest in 2021.

He had cited several reasons for leniency including his lack of any previous criminal record, his testicular cancer and being able to care for his children.

REPORT: Massive seaweed blob hitting Florida beaches full of flesh-eating bacteria

REPORT: Massive seaweed blob hitting Florida beaches full of flesh-eating bacteria

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

A massive 5,000-mile wave of seaweed that has begun washing up in Florida has been found to hold deadly flesh-eating bacteria, according to a report by Newsweek on Tuesday.

The report shows that a study by Florida Atlantic University found that the Sargassum seaweed clump has been carrying floating plastics that hold the bacteria.

The bacteria — identified by researches as Vibrio bacteria — can cause infections if exposed to open wounds, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. An “open wound” can include those from piercings, tattoos or recent surgery, among others.

The bacteria is especially common in brackish water, a combination of fresh and salt water that is found along Florida’s beaches, the CDC explained.

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Infected wounds may also become necrotic, meaning that the flesh around the wound will end up dying and rotting away, Newsweek reports.

The CDC states that infections are typically treated with antibiotics, though symptoms include the following:

watery diarrheastomach crampingnauseavomitingfeverskin lesions and dangerously low blood pressure (in the case of bloodstream infections)discoloration and discharge (in the case of wound infections)

To prevent infection, the CDC suggests covering wounds in waterproof bandages if swimming in saltwater or brackish water. In addition, the CDC advises that swimmers wash their wounds and cuts with soap and water after coming into contact with brackish water.

Beyond the bacteria, researchers at FAU also announced earlier this year that a “toxic gas” found within the seaweed blob could pose health risks to coastal residents and visitors.

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