HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Fewer people were getting tested for HIV due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the Virginia Health Department made it easier to get a test.
Felencia McGee is the Director for HIV and Hepatitis Prevention for the Virginia Health Department and said, “Preliminary numbers show there has been a significant decrease in HIV testing, as well as HIV diagnoses.”
State health officials said preliminary data suggests a decrease of roughly 20-30% in 2020 compared to 2019.
“COVID has certainly impacted what we have been able to do simply because people are not able to easily access HIV testing and prevention services,” said McGee.
Experts said there are several reasons causing this decrease in testing.
VDH said in a statement, “While some of this could be attributed to COVID-19 restrictions (i.e. limited access), people are also reluctant to seek care during the pandemic. In fact, a CDC from September 2020 noted that 41% of U.S. adults avoided or delayed medical care due to COVID-19 concerns.”
Not as many people are getting tested and then COVID-19 is also putting a strain on resources.
“Our public health staff within the health departments have all pretty much been deployed to the COVID-19 response, so with that has left limited resources for people to be able to access services within those physical buildings,” said McGee.
To make testing easier to get, the Virginia Health Department expanded an at-home testing kit program that they have already had in place for the past five years.
They said the program used to be for men who have sex with other men, but now anyone can request an at-home test. VDH officials said they expanded the program this past July.
“People can go to our website, answer a few questions and they can have an HIV tests mailed to them. They perform the test in the comfort of their home, and they can have the results in as little as 20 minutes,” said McGee.
“Our in-home testing program has been operating for several years, so during COVID we have provided extensive technical assistance and support to other states that were trying to start a home testing program. VDH is seen as a national model for its home testing program! PrEP is a once-daily pill to prevent HIV. When getting tested for HIV, ask about PrEP,” according to the health department.
For more information about HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, or PrEP, you can contact the Disease Prevention Hotline at 1-800-533-4148. You can also submit a request for an in-home HIV test by clicking here.