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Free STD clinic hopes to combat testing blackout during COVID pandemic
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Free STD clinic hopes to combat testing blackout during COVID pandemic

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Budget - Health Dept.

The Jackson County Health Department is pictured in 2015.

CARBONDALE — Organizers hope a free clinic this weekend will remind people of the importance of testing during the pandemic — and this time it’s not COVID-19.

It's sexually transmitted diseases.

The Rainbow Cafe, in partnership with the Community Action Place, are hosting a free STD testing clinic from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Cafe’s brick and mortar location at 1320 S. Giant City Road in Carbondale.

The test will cover HIV, HEP-C, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis.

Organizers said COVID-19 restrictions have reduced the number of people getting tested. In a statement to news media, representatives from the Rainbow Cafe said COVID-19 has worsened sexual health and safety for the LGBTQA communities, barring many from being able to undergo testing.

Rainbow Cafe Manager Benton Goff said many in the community have not tested during the pandemic. The concern, he said, is that there will be a surge in unreported STDs in the coming months and years because of the testing blackout many had.

There was a notable dip in STD test requests last year, Paula Clark, HIV services director for the Jackson County Health Department, said.  

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She said the number could even have dropped by half. Part of this, she said, could have been because the health department was largely closed to the public from about April to October last year.

“A lot of things have gone by the wayside,” she said, of preventative care during the pandemic.

Many STD clinics shut their doors or slashed their hours during the lockdowns last spring, according to the Associated Press. Staffers who previously helped track the infections were reassigned to focus on COVID-19. And labs that process most STD tests were forced to ration supplies to focus on the flood of incoming COVID-19 samples, the AP reported. 

According to the Associated Press, survey data from the National Coalition of STD Directors, which represents state and local health workers, shows that even in January this year, 40% of STD programs were still operating with reduced staff due to COVID-19.

That’s led to cutbacks in services to find and fight infections that can often spread will little or no immediate symptoms, the AP said.  

Possible evidence of STI increases may be coming in now, Clark said. She said there has been a marked increase in cases of syphilis in the last four months. However she added that it’s hard to pinpoint COVID-19 as the sole culprit.

Clark said she will be interested to see in the coming months and years what fallout the lack of testing, not just for STDs but for things like cancer, have impacted public health.

Clark said while many of her STD contract tracers were redirected to COVID-19 pandemic efforts, she said they still tracked community STD infections.

“Those duties go on throughout a pandemic no matter what,” she said.

isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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