As Some Health Officials Resume Non-COVID Roles, Focus Turns To STD Increases

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Last year, several county officials were pulled from their regular jobs for contact tracing. Many of them are now resuming their regular duties and identifying health issues beyond the pandemic.

According to Rebecca Kaufman, Director of the Broome County Health Department, a lot of what health officials are noticing is related to preventable illness.

Many residents, Kaufman said, have not gone to their regular care visits over the last year. She said that has contributed to emergency department visits that could have been prevented.

(Bret Hartman /AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

“Just in general across Broome County we’re seeing ED visits that weren’t really necessary,” Kaufman explained. “Everything from heart attack and stroke and other illnesses that if they were caught earlier, people would not be as sick as they are now.”

Other challenges have included resuming intervention therapies for children under the age of five, which the county coordinates, and addressing the increase in sexually transmitted infections.

In February, New York reported cases of gonorrhea in Broome County increased by 50 percent from 2019 to 2020.

Kaufman said the number of gonorrhea and chlamydia cases countywide have increased each year since 2018. Fewer asymptomatic screenings due to the pandemic could have compounded the problem, although Kaufman said the pandemic is just one of many factors.

“I wouldn’t say it’s one thing or another,” Kaufman stressed. “Obviously people not coming for prevention or care doesn’t help the situation, but I wouldn’t say the pandemic is fully to blame for the increase.”

The county’s walk-in STD clinic has been closed since last March. Testing services provided to people incarcerated at the Broome County jail were suspended for a few months, but Kaufman said they resumed shortly after.

The public health nurses who usually staff the public clinic have not been able to return to and reopen the clinic because they are needed at the county’s vaccination clinics, Kaufman said. The county is partnering with nearly every school district in the county to vaccinate eligible students, with clinics sometimes in two or three places a day.

Once fewer vaccinations are needed, Kaufman said the county will look into reopening the clinic, possibly this summer.

At the same time, many vaccinated people will return to partying and dating, which could mean increased spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Like the Twitter trend implies, some people are ready for a “Shot Girl Summer” — a take on a Megan Thee Stallion song used to describe vaccinated people who are single, protected from COVID-19 and ready to mingle.

Kaufman said she understands people want to get out and date again. She added it is still important to remember all the ways to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, including condoms.

“There are many places in Broome County where you can get condoms,” Kaufman said. “Here at the health department, at Family Planning and some local bars and restaurants also accept condoms and they have them in the bathroom.”

In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported record-high numbers of STD cases in 2019, with more than 2.5 million reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.

That does not include, however, all of the cases that go undiagnosed or unreported, nor does it include data on several other STDs. For that reason, the CDC has warned that its national surveillance data represented only a fraction of cases.

National numbers for 2020 have not yet been released, but New York saw gonorrhea cases increase by 40 percent from 2019 to 2020 statewide.

During that period, the number of cases in women increased by 54 percent. That compares to  cases in men, which increased by 29 percent.

Until Broome County’s STD clinic reopens, Kaufman suggests anyone looking for testing speak with their primary care provider or call the health department for other options.