SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — For most of 2020, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department has had its hands full with COVID-19, but staff still want to make sure other diseases are taken care of.
Contact tracing for the dozens of COVID cases that continue to come in weekly or even daily can be time consuming, but the health department has relied on other health partners to give them a hand with things that aren’t COVID-related.
Public Health Information Director Katherine Wall says they still want to make sure no aspect of their healthcare is neglected, even though their clinic has been in flux.
“There are just short of 160 illnesses that are reportable to us that we track in one way or another,” Wall says.
“We closed the clinic initially wanting to have more information about how we could ensure that our patients and our clients were safe. For a time, we re-opened with strict safety measures in place, but since that time, we have had to close again because of those COVID numbers. I want to assure the public that public health has not gone to the wayside.”
She says contact tracing for COVID can require more steps than some other diseases. With things such as Hepatitis A for example, they may notify all those potentially exposed and recommend they get vaccinated.
However, with no COVID vaccine yet, there are extra steps, including quarantining and follow-up care. Because of that extra effort required, other healthcare partners have stepped up to help with other diseases. One of those partners is the AIDS Project of the Ozarks.
Executive Director Lynne Meyerkord says APO is providing relief for STD testing.
“We’re the only two entities in the area that provide that at no cost,” Meyerkord says.
But at the moment, APO is the only agency filling that void for free. Right now, APO is appointment based only, no walk-ins. They have a priority on those showing symptoms. Meyerkord says that has lead to many people skipping or not scheduling appointments.
“That’s frustrating for us, but we also have to maintain a safe environment. I do think that probably more people that have STD’s are not being diagnosed because services are not as accessible,” says Meyerkord.
According to numbers, the percentage of positive STD tests have gone up, despite widespread advice to avoid contact.
“I think these are very difficult, stressful times. We don’t see sexual activity decrease during those times. We’re not surprised that rates are up,” says Meyerkord.
Meyerkord wants to remind people that if they need STD prevention supplies, those are still available, just give them a call to pick those up.
Wall and the Health Department want people to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to go to the doctor despite the pandemic.