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HIV service providers sound alarm over coronavirus disruptions. 'We have to keep our eye on the ball'

Lautaro Grinspan, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- "HIV happens despite COVID-19."

That's the terse message blaring out of a digital billboard adjacent to I-395 in downtown Miami.

Pridelines, the local LGBTQ community center behind the ad, hopes it will help raise awareness of the HIV testing services that are still being offered at the organization's headquarters, near Little Haiti, despite the coronavirus outbreak.

The publicity is badly needed.

Although Pridelines has long been performing HIV screening at its brick-and-mortar center, the bulk of its tests have traditionally been administered out of mobile units that tested people at places like college campuses or in front of nightclubs. Because of COVID-19, that mobile testing program is now shut down.

Another change: all tests provided at the Pridelines center are now done by appointment-only, to make sure there's no more than two people in the building at any given time.

 

"For us, we have seen a significant drop in the number of people we are testing," said Victor Diaz-Herman, Pridelines CEO. "That's why we have our billboard up ... Just because we are dealing with this coronavirus pandemic doesn't mean that HIV all of a sudden is going to stop."

Pridelines' situation isn't unique, as the spread of coronavirus has disrupted the work of many other centers on the frontlines of HIV/AIDS -- a deadlier infectious disease than COVID-19, if untreated -- across South Florida. The result is a narrower set of options for community members seeking to know their status, this at a time when being immunocompromised means greater vulnerability to the ongoing pandemic.

Last month, the Pride Center and Broward House suspended their HIV testing operations, citing coronavirus. Meanwhile, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, or AHF, has stopped offering routine testing at its six wellness centers in Miami-Dade, though facilities remain open for treatment, and to test people who believe they've been exposed to HIV. AHF's mobile clinic testing has also been suspended.

The interruption of HIV testing services is taking place as health departments nationwide redeploy infectious disease staff away from STDs and toward emergency coronavirus response roles. That combination, according to experts cited by Politico, could lead to higher rates of STD transmission.

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