COVID-19: What LGBT People Need to Know

LGBT people are likely worried about the potential impact of Coronavirus 2019 on their health. People at particular risk should talk to their health providers about their options for protecting themselves from infection.

Updated August 26, 2020

What is Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center doing?

Our organization prioritizes health promotion and health equity for the LGBT community, so we are taking COVID-19 seriously and are taking the following precautionary measures:

The Lehigh Valley is in the GREEN ZONE and Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center has produced videos featuring drag performer Mandy Mango to help keep our community informed:

Safe brunching / happy hours during COVID-19


Sexual health during COVID-19


Keep washing your hands


Why are LGBT people at particular risk for Coronavirus 2019? 

LGBT people are at particular risk for COVID-19 as a result of several factors: 

We use tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers. 

Higher rates of HIV and cancer among LGBT individuals mean that a greater number of us may have compromised immunity, leaving us more vulnerable to Coronavirus infection.

LGBT people experience health disparities. Health disparities affect the potential COVID-19 impact on us in two ways: 

  1. Access to care barriers leaves us less likely to get medical care, and
  2. Existing health disparities mean more of us live in a state of compromised health. 

What can I do to avoid getting coronavirus?

While we may experience several waves of this epidemic, experts still consider us to be in the first wave. Considering this, we are likely to be facing potential exposure for many months to come. The information about transmission is changing as scientists learn more, so it’s important people stay up to date with the latest information. 

The challenge now is how to take steps for each of us to reduce both our personal risk and population risk as well. From what we know about transmission now, there are clear steps we can all take to reduce this risk.

There is evidence of transmission by people who appear healthy. These people may be presymptomatic (about to show symptoms) but the important point is they can transmit the virus without understanding they are sick. CDC long ago warned some of the greatest viral shedding occurs right before a person becomes symptomatic

Prolonged close exposure to airborne droplets from the breathing of someone who is shedding the virus is thought to be the main route for transmission. To minimize this risk, try to minimize time spent in close quarters with other people inside. Moving outdoors greatly reduces the risk; there are extremely few known cases of outdoor transmission. Even mild breezes help disperse potentially infectious airborne droplets. Space also helps those droplets land or dry up before they get to you. Whenever possible keep 6’ away from other people and stay outside. 

While there have been concerns about spread of the virus through touching infected surfaces, this is no longer thought to be the main way it is transmitted. Still, practicing good pandemic hygiene including frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your mouth, nose, or eyes will reduce your risk of any surface-related exposure. 

There is growing evidence that societies where mask use is common have lower transmission rates overall. As of July 1, 2020, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, has instituted a requirement that all people wear face coverings over their mouth and nose if they are:

  • Outdoors and unable to socially distance 6 feet from those who are not members of their household;
  • In any public, indoor location;
  • Waiting for, riding on, driving, or operating public transportation, taxis, or ride-sharing vehicles; 
  • Obtaining services at a hospital, pharmacy, medical clinic, laboratory, doctor's or dentist's office, veterinary clinic, or blood bank; or
  • Engaged in work, interacting in-person with any member of the public, working in any place visited by members of the public, working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to others, working in or walking through common areas, or in any room or enclosed area where other people outside of their household are present and unable to maintain physical distance. 

Governor Tom Wolf has moved Lehigh and Northampton County to the Green Zone effective June 26, 2020. Information about which activities are available in the Green Zone are listed, here.

Are there special precautions that LGBT people should take?

If an LGBT person has cancer, smokes, is living with unsuppressed HIV, is over 65 years old, or has any other fragile health condition, consider taking additional measures to avoid risk of infection. This could include more vigilance about staying away from symptomatic people, it could include avoiding larger gatherings of people, and should definitely include practicing excellent epidemic hygiene, like frequent hand washing and breaking habits of face-touching.

All smokers should know they can access free tobacco cessation services by calling or visiting

1-800-QUIT NOW

What should I do if I think I may have this coronavirus?

Hospital hotlines for phone screening and determination if you need a COVID-19 test:

Lehigh Valley Health Network: 1-800-402-LVHN and ask for MyLVHNRN to be screened. More info from LVHN is available here

St. Luke's University Health Network: 1-866-785-8537, option 7. More info from St. Luke's is available here

Please do not go an ER or emergi-center until you have called one of the hotlines.

As you travel to get health care, remember: 

  • Cover your mouth in some way so you do not unwittingly transmit to others, and 
  • Wash your own hands frequently and minimize touching common surfaces.

Staying home while you are sick is the best way to avoid further transmitting the disease to others. 

Background on Coronavirus 2019

Coronavirus disease 2019 (or COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that was first identified in an outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It is a respiratory illness that spreads from person to person through small droplets expelled when a person coughs or sneezes. 

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. They usually include a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Currently there is an estimated fatality rate of 3.4% for people with COVID-19; it is highest for men, people over 60, and smokers. We have no information what the fatality rate might be for people with HIV or other immunosuppressed individuals, like those undergoing cancer care.

Mental Health Resources during social distancing:

This time can be very hard for so many of us. When you may need them, please reach out to these resources below. They are very helpful to many of us.



information on this page is provided in partnership with the National LGBT Cancer Network and Lehigh Valley Health Network. Developed resources reported in this project are supported by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH) under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012342 with the University of Pittsburgh, Health Sciences Library System. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. Additional support provided by Gamma Mu Foundation.

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