DC Health conducted a three-part listening session on May 6, May 14, and May 27, 2020, with individuals living with HIV in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Participants were recruited through members of the Washington, DC Regional Planning Commission on Health and HIV (COHAH). The average group size was 14 with both men and women participating. The virtual platform was new to most participants. Although there was an attempt to address the overall quality of life, most of the discussion centered on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main concerns of the group included mental health, feeling limited because of COVID-19, COVID-19’s effect on support groups and outreach, a lack of social and family support, and high susceptibility to COVID-19. Members also expressed feelings of isolation. COVID-19 amplified the sense of loneliness for those who already felt like “loners.” Several participants felt that they may be overlooked while the world addresses COVID-19. There were some concerns about COVID-19 mutating or its impact on HIV.
Participants felt that resilience was a major strength of the community. They do not let HIV define them. For many, being HIV-positive was a practice run for COVID-19. Participants believed HIV-positive individuals were better prepared to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines and best practices because they had already been following guidelines and best practices for preventing the spread of HIV. Most participants have been HIV-positive for more than 10 years and are doing well. They are confident that they know how to take care of themselves. HIV is just a part of who they are and not the “center” of who they are. Their strengths also come from their family and friends, therapists, and support systems.
Individuals felt that because they have been HIV-positive for so long, they could help others create support systems. HIV-positive individuals could also become HIV navigators, helping to guide their peers through the health care system and cope with COVID-19.