We at Sexual + Being are always excited to speak with the folks of the DC Health Department who are making our sex lives safer, healthier, and less stressful. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Kenya Troutman, the Program Manager of their community education and outreach branch, which focuses on youth-related initiatives for DC residents between the ages of 13 and 24. Kenya leads a number of programs focused on condom distribution, peer education, pregnancy prevention, as well as school-based testing and community-based testing.
“A lot of young people look forward to that one opportunity that we come to their school every year to get screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea,” says Kenya.
However, with schools out of session due to COVID, those young people no longer have that easy access to screening.
These factors provided the demand and motivation needed to prioritize at-home testing and deliver it to residents via the GetCheckedDC program.
The department recently launched GetCheckedDC.org. According to Kenya, at-home testing was something that the department has talked about for years. When COVID happened, DC residents had difficulty accessing testing sites due to health restrictions and protests.
“It seemed very timely to get this program off the ground,” Kenya says, “Especially for our young people.”
Sexual + Being: How does GetCheckedDC help people get access to the health services they need during COVID-19?
Kenya: GetCheckedDC launched on National HIV Testing Day, back in June of this year. This was apt as the first service we launched was home HIV screening. So that branch of our program allows residents to go online, submit a request to have a test get mailed to their home confidentially, and in a very discreetly labeled package.
Residents who have received that test kit then perform their tests on themselves at home using the quick test, which is an oral swab test. There’s no blood drawn, or needle pricks, or anything like that involved.
And it’s a rapid test. So residents get their results in the confidentiality and the comfort of their home within 20 minutes.
We just recently launched a second component of the program, which gives the residents the opportunity to be screened for chlamydia and/or gonorrhea in the privacy of their homes as well. Residents can request the urine chlamydia/gonorrhea screen, an oral test (which involves you swabbing the back of the throat to test for infection in your mouth), and/or a rectal chlamydia and gonorrhea infection screen, which obviously involves a swabbing of the rectal area.
There aren’t a lot of sites in DC that offer this type of three-phase screening. We’re seeing most folks are ordering either all three options or two options. This speaks to the need for more than just urine screening.
Same as the HIV screening, the STD test shows up at your home in a discreetly labeled package. For STD test results, those have to be processed by a lab. So once residents mail their specimens back in, it should take a few days. Residents have the ability to register their STD test kits so that they can get their access to their results online.
Sexual + Being: How is at-home testing different from in-office testing? How can people trust their results when they do it themselves?
Kenya: The GetCheckedDC program gives our residents the opportunity to become the drivers of their sexual health.
The major difference between home testing and office screening is the fact that you are home, you’re alone and in the comfort of your home. So you have a bit more control over what the testing process is going to look like for you.
If being in an office or being face-to-face with a doctor, or even getting yourself up and going into a clinic is something that made you uneasy, well that sort of goes out the window in the home setting. You get control over what the atmosphere the ambiance is going to be for your testing experience. I think that’s first and foremost.
We have the same resources in place as an office visit to assist with connecting you to care, and counseling you through your results. Even though we’re not there physically with you during the testing process, we at GetCheckedDC make it abundantly clear that we are still here to provide support for you — regardless of your results, whether they’re negative or positive.
Sexual + Being: Are you finding that people are excited about this at-home testing option?
Kenya: In light of COVID, a lot of organizations — some of which we fund or partner with — are still trying to figure out how to allow patients back into their building, or how to allow services. Some have had to cut back hours or adjust the way that they offer services.
In DC we put a lot of work into our HIV prevention and education programs across the city. So, it was really important for us to not have COVID be a stumbling block for us on the way to achieving our goals regarding a reduction of infections. GetCheckedDC has really been key in continuing to keep residents informed of their results and their HIV status.
The Mayor of DC recently posted a tweet that highlighted our program. That got us a lot of traction. We noticed a huge jump in our in touch requests that came after that.
Get tested in the comfort of your home in the District or at a lab in the DMV. #GetCheckedDC is Washington, DC’s new, FREE program that provides residents with confidential, convenient testing for both HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). https://t.co/9BiIwS9QKd
— Muriel Bowser (@MurielBowser) September 15, 2020
Be sure to visit getcheckeddc.org to learn more about and support the incredible work Kenya and her team are doing to keep HIV and STI infection rates low, despite whatever challenges may arise.