Montgomery County will begin offering HIV and STI testing at a new clinic in Germantown, Maryland, starting Monday.
Beth Beck, HIV/STI Preventive Program Manager with Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services, said she knows it’s not easy for anyone to walk into a clinic setting to get tested for sexually transmitted infections.
Patients, she said, “are scared to go into a clinic setting, especially when you have something that’s itching and scratching in a place you don’t want to talk about!”
But staff at the new Germantown clinic want people to feel comfortable about getting tested, she said.
“That’s why we try to be as welcoming, and try to reduce those barriers, as much as possible,” Beck said.
The Sexual Health and Wellness Clinic opening at the Upcounty Services Center in Germantown will be the second facility to offer HIV and STI testing. The other is at the county’s Dennis Avenue facility in Silver Spring.
“STIs are not only happening down-county,” said Melvin Cauthen, the HIV/STI Services Administrator with the county’s health department.
For many residents, having to travel down-county “is a barrier,” Cauthen said.
Montgomery County Council member Marilyn Balcombe attended Thursday’s open house at the new clinic and said the second barrier to getting tested for HIV and STIs is “the stigma.”
Balcombe said it’s important to see sexual health as a part of overall health, and said “everybody needs to know their status.” She was referring to the fact that, according to county health data, one out of nine people in the county who have HIV don’t know their status.
STI testing is free to anyone 26 years old and under, and HIV testing is free for all ages.
Beck added that rates of HIV and STIs have gone up “considerably,” particularly in the last three to five years.
In Montgomery County, health officials have seen an increase in the number of cases of syphilis. Asked why, Beck said, “Well, the pandemic has affected everything, and people did not get tested. So we’re doing a lot of ‘catch up’ testing.”
Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Kisha Davis told WTOP that the selection of the Upcounty Services Center for the clinic site made sense.
“This site was already a hub, a trusted site,” for a range of county services, Davis said.