State health officials say COVID response is straining resources for HIV response

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State health officials say resources to fight the HIV outbreak in Kanawha County are being strained from the COVID-19 pandemic response.

The discussion of how and the latest HIV numbers in the county were confirmed this week during a meeting of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s HIV task force. It was the task force’s first meeting since July.

State epidemiologist Shannon McBee, with the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), said the recent COVID-19 surge in the state is using resources in public health from top to bottom.

“In terms of key leadership positions to drive initiatives, to epidemiologists and DIS investigators being diverted to help with case and contact investigation during surges,” McBee said.

State surveillance data indicated 11 new HIV cases in the county since the previous meeting in July. McBee said three were in-patient, three were detected by CAMC Ryan White clinic in outreach testing, three at partner services, and two at West Virginia Health Right.

Kanawha County recorded 15 HIV cases in 2019, increasing to 40 recorded in 2020 and 29 cases have been confirmed in the county in 2021, data showed.

84 newly diagnosed cases of HIV associated with injection drug use have been reported in the county since Jan. 1, 2019, McBee stated. 81% of those were people between 20 and 40 years of age, 52% male, and 48% homeless or unstably housed.

In August, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report of recommendations to control the HIV spread in the county including increased access to sterile syringes.

The task had discussed and scheduled a town hall for August to release more of the data found by the CDC and discuss with community members. The town hall did not happen due to COVID-19.

“We are working on a formalized response plan that addresses all of the recommendations from the epi-aid. One of the activities that we want to see accomplished in the future when we can do so safely engage in community members,” McBee said during the meeting.

McBee said an agenda item for the next meeting, scheduled for October 12, is to review the plan the task force has had in COVID-19 and reestablish short and mid-term goals.