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HIV Testing Is Way Down During Pandemic, Worrying Health Care Providers About 'Onslaught Of New Cases' After COVID-19

A clinician points to the negative result of an HIV test during a demonstration at a Miami high school in 2015.
Carl Juste/Miami Herald
A clinician points to the negative result of an HIV test during a demonstration at a Miami high school in 2015.

Free at-home testing is available for people who are afraid to seek care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections has plummeted in Florida during the coronavirus pandemic, but many more people are taking advantage of at-home testing than before.

“We have increased by 200 or 300% the number of home test kits that we are sending out and that we have made available to the general public,” said Luigi Ferrer, who specializes in the sexual health of LGBTQ people at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County.

“We will mail you a free home HIV test kit if you want that, and we will provide a counselor to do a Zoom call with you while you're doing the test, if you want to have somebody there with you,” Ferrer said. “We will do the test and the post-test counseling and link that person to care, if the tests were to come back positive.”

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HIV testing began to lag in March and “dropped off the cliff” in April statewide, Ferrer said. Now, it’s back up to about 70% of normal, “and I think until COVID restrictions are lifted, we won't get back to 100% of what we were doing before,” he said.

Ferrer said most people who are getting tested for STIs now have symptoms, which means there are likely many asymptomatic people who don’t know they’re infected and could be spreading diseases unknowingly.

“The spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections may be continuing unchecked, and we're going to be up for a rude awakening later on when all of those numbers start to come up,” Ferrer said. “We're now planning for an onslaught of new cases and how we're going to connect them all to care.”

Find more information about free HIV and STI testing in Miami-Dade County here.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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