HIV advocates respond to COVID-19, want ‘game plan’ from public officials

HIV/STI testing still available in Charlotte, but at only one county facility

By Rhiannon Fionn (she/her/hers) | Contributing Writer

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Charlotteans living with HIV are as concerned as anyone – if not more so — about the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, that has changed the world as we know it. Local and even national HIV advocates and healthcare professionals have attempted to provide answers. Yet, questions and concerns continue to mount as government agencies seem to struggle with a definitive “game plan,” says one local HIV prevention and care worker.

State and federal officials have offered some guidance, including the Center for Disease Control’s “What to know about HIV and COVID-19” page and the National Institute of Health’s “Interim Guidance for COVID-19 and Persons with HIV.”

But that’s not good enough says Laurenzo Surrell-Page (he/him), a peer navigator for RAIN in Charlotte in their Empowering Positive Youth program. He says the websites only contain, “typical things we already know; it’s not anything new.” Then he added, “It doesn’t help.”

It’s not that the information is faulty, says Surrell-Page, who has been living with HIV since 2015; it’s that the advice offered is the advice that is already offered to everyone already living with HIV.

“This is concerning,” he says, “because I think that they still don’t know [what to tell the HIV community].” He says, “It’s kind of alarming,” referring to the fact that the government doesn’t have specific guidance for HIV patients, “It makes me a little more nervous.”

Surrell-Page wants government agencies to be more proactive and more communicative. “What’s the game plan,” he asks.

HIV advocates, LGBTQ health organizations, and other community leaders saw the need to clearly communicate the potential increased COVID-19 risks for LGBTQ people, especially those who are living with HIV. Three weeks ago, the National LGBT Cancer Network and GLMA, a national organization of LGBTQ health professionals, released a letter outlining those concerns with over 100 other organizations co-signing. The National LGBT Cancer Network has since posted that letter and a slew of helpful tips and resources on their website.

For RAIN’s part locally, they’ve instituted new protocols for continuing to provide services and guidance to clients. That care has shifted to remote services and includes efforts to schedule deliveries of medications, reaching out to each client weekly, and developing a COVID-19 resource book and emergency assessment. You can read RAIN’s full statement on their remote care on their website.

Meanwhile, now that both the state and county have issued official stay-at-home orders lasting through the end of April, Surrell-Page says it’s like “another layer of barriers” has been erected. He’s wondering how public officials are going to help people living with HIV in Charlotte to get their medications, how and where people can be tested for HIV, and how the city and county will address the same issues within Charlotte’s homeless community.

Testing for HIV and other STIs is still available in Charlotte, though only at one of the two testing clinics in the county. Starting Monday, March 30, testing will only be available at the clinic at 2845 Beatties Ford Rd. The clinic on Billingsly Rd. was closed at the end of the day on Friday, March 27. Mecklenburg County health officials had already suspended community-based testing sites — like those hosted at RAIN’s offices — earlier in March.


Featured Photo: Staffers at the RAIN office. Photo courtesy RAIN/Facebook.


ABOUT THE WRITER

Rhiannon Fionn (she/her/hers) is an award-winning journalist writing the Suffragist column for Queen City Nerve. Paralegal student, organic gardener and crochet aficionada. NAMI speaker. Cat mom. Follow Rhiannon on Twitter.


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