When the COVID-19 pandemic first reached the United States in 2020, its effects were far-reaching. It altered the way we socialized, the way children learned in schools, how we grieved for those who were lost to that virus, and how we viewed vaccines in general. The HIV and STI communities were certainly not left out of the grip of COVID-19 and its effects, either.
While it may not be possible to know the full effect that COVID-19 will ultimately have on the HIV field, we did learn a few things over the last few years. For example, Medscape.com reports that “HIV testing and PrEP prescriptions declined early in the COVID-19 pandemic…” and medicalxpress.com stated that researchers at Boston Medical Center reported an “increase [in] positive test rates.”
In fact, medicalxpress.com says that the United States experienced a reduction of approximately 150,000 HIV tests as the pandemic began to take hold of the country. Couple the fact that many public health professionals were, during this time, shifted over to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in their jurisdictions taking away the necessary resources from HIV and STI testing and treating, for example, with the reduction in the number of people who were attending routine HIV and STI testing visits, and it is no wonder that the numbers of tests fell.
Further, according to the news source, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in April 2020 encouraged the use of telehealth visits to address individuals who were symptomatic for HIV and/or STIs during the pandemic. Individuals who were seeking testing but not symptomatic were often deferred during this time, per the CDC, since many in-person screenings were unavailable.
Deferring those individuals is understandable given that the country and the world abroad were facing the biggest public health crisis in recent memory, but it is not ideal when attempting to combat a virus like HIV. In many people who are infected with HIV, for example, there are no symptoms. Routine testing is, at times, the only way some individuals may know if they have HIV (or an STI for that matter) or not.
Now that some time has passed since COVID-19 first ransacked our nation, hopefully we can fully make up the ground we lost to that virus and resume regular testing and treatment for HIV and STIs at an increased pace as we also learn to how to address and live in a world with COVID-19.