Position Statement on HIV and COVID-19 Sign-On by Florida Organizations
The community of people living with HIV and those who love and care for them is once again being threatened by a global pandemic. This time our community is ready for action based on the lessons we learned from the HIV epidemic in the early 1980s. Policymakers whose decisions directly affect the lives of persons living with HIV (PLWH) have a special responsibility to consider the potentially adverse impacts stemming from a complex system of public policy which often fails to adequately address our needs.
As Florida continues to be an epicenter for COVID-19, people living with HIV and other chronic illness, healthcare professionals, local policymakers, and HIV advocates across the state are on high alert, concerned about how this new public health emergency can threaten the overall health and well-being of those already impacted by HIV. The community of PLWH in Florida, estimated at 120,000, disproportionately includes people of color, the LGBTQ community, undocumented immigrants, and the aging population, many of who already struggle to access healthcare and supportive services. Moreover, there are other infectious diseases, like Hepatitis C and Tuberculosis, which are impacting Floridians that cannot be neglected due to this new virus. The undersigned organizations are joining together to ask the state’s lawmakers and decisionmakers to maintain direct services for PLWH and prevention efforts when implementing policies related to COVID-19.
Early data indicate that HIV status is not correlated with worse health outcomes in people diagnosed with COVID-19. However, according to the CDC, over 50% of the population living with HIV in the United States is 50+ years of age and have high rates of comorbidities, which can put them at higher risk of complications of COVID-19. Considering Florida is a retirement state, we should pay special attention to this population, which will suffer more from barriers to HIV direct services, as well as the greater risk of homelessness, poverty, and food insecurity, which are already issues in our state.
Continued access to free COVID-19 testing, continued access to antiretroviral medications, and equal access to telehealth options should be the top priority. Continued access to STI testing and services should be secured and uninterrupted. We must not forget that healthcare choices made by healthcare providers and hospitals regarding COVID-19 cannot be made based solely on someone’s HIV status. The varying nature of hospital guidelines around the state presents a real danger to those who cannot advocate for themselves.
Collectively, we are asking policymakers to enact policy to affirm the following:
- Standardize hospital internal policies to treat all people with COVID-19 the same regardless of HIV status, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
- Expand COVID-19 data collection to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Support frontline healthcare workers’ PPE demands and provide necessary supplies to keep healthcare workers and patients safe.
- Focus messaging, engagement, and outreach to black and brown communities which are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
- Increase the number of Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS) Employees, as most have been redirected away from HIV, creating a deficit in the HIV workforce. These essential workers need to be redirected back to HIV.
- Provide greater flexibility in funding and associated deliverables for recipient organizations of FL Department of Health (DOH) grants, cooperative agreements, Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) funds, and other awards.
- Expand STI and HIV testing at home, and continue to provide free STI testing and free treatment at existing on-site locations.
- Reassure that allocated funds for the EHE Initiative are indeed used for the HIV eradication plan.
- Update modernize HIV-specific laws of the state that criminalize negligible behavior that does not transmit HIV and serve as a deterrent for public health goals.
A pandemic with the scope and uncertainty of COVID-19 requires a decisive, robust response, and the recommendations above will aid in moving Florida closer to epidemic control and containment at an accelerated pace, prevent potentially thousands of cases of COVID-19, and prevent hundreds of deaths. The continued health, safety, and well-being of all Floridians, especially those living with HIV, rests in the hands of a comprehensive response, and the time to act is now. We are hopeful that you will seriously consider and act on the aforementioned recommendations.
Equality Florida, Nadine Smith, CEO
The AIDS Institute- Michael Ruppal, Executive Director
AIDS Alliance for Women, Infants, Children, Youth & Families, Dr. Ivy Turnbull, Deputy Executive Director
Empath Partners in Care (EPIC), Joy Weinheim, Executive Director
Big Bend Cares- Rob Renzi, Executive Director
Positive Women’s Network- USA, Jennie Smith-Camejo, Communications Director
The Pride Center at Equality Park- Robert Boo, Executive Director
The Sero Project, Kamaria Laffrey, Southern Engagement Community Coordinator
SAGE, Advocacy and Services for LGBTQ Elders, Aaron Tax, Director of Advocacy
AHF South/AIDS Healthcare Foundation- David Poole, Director of Legislative Affairs
QLatinX, Christopher Cuevas, Executive Director
SAVE, Orlando Gonzalez, Executive Director
Arianna’s Center- Arianna Lint, Executive Director
Prevention305, Patrick Whiteside, Executive Director
BlissCares, Juan Rodriguez, Executive Director
Bros in Convo Initiative, Daniel Downer, Executive Director
Rural Women’s Health Project, Robin Lewy, Director of Programming
AH of Monroe County, Stephen Aube, Client/Consumer Liason
Ujima Men’s Collective, Lorenzo Robertson, Executive Director
Hope & Help Center of Central Florida, Lisa Barr, Executive Director
All Rainbow and Allied Youth Inc, Hal Trejo, Board President
ACLU of Florida, Micah Kubic, Ph.D., Executive Director
Positive People Network Inc., Alecia Tramel, Executive Director
Rose Dynasty Foundation Inc., Jason DeSahzo, President/Founder
Come Out with Pride, Jeff Prystajko, Board Presidentk,
Unity Coalition/Coalicion Unida, Herb Sosa, President/CEO
CenterLink: The Community of LGBTQ Centers, Denise Spivak, CEO
Aqua Foundation for Women, Grace Lopez, Executive Director
SWOPUSA, Alex Andrews, Board Member
One Orlando Alliance, Jennifer Foster, Executive Director
JASMYN, Cindy Watson, CEO
Independent Medical Group LLC, Clifford W. Knights, Chief Executive Officer
High Impacto, Inc., Jorge Gardela, CEO
LatinxPlus, Gonzalo Aburto, Steering Committee Leader
Broward House, Stacy Hyde, CEO
TEA- Transgenero En Accion, Denise Alvarado, Director
Pridelines, Victor E. Diaz-Herman, CEO