A summary of findings from surveys of health department STD programs and DIS in their ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the STD field has dedicated staff and resources to the fight against COVID-19, providing essential contact tracing and disease intervention services. In June 2020, we published a report on our initial survey findings COVID-19 and the State of the STD Field, which described the field’s immediate response to the pandemic. Two months later, we published a second report, COVID-19 and the State of the STD Field: Phase II, showing the high cost of this response on STD programs. This report describes the impact COVID-19 disruptions continue to have on our nation’s STD programs and disease intervention specialists.
In November 2020, NCSD distributed Phase III assessments via SurveyMonkey to STD program directors from the 65 jurisdictions directly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We asked nine questions to assess redeployments, contact tracing, disease intervention services, and the longer-term impacts of their COVID-19 response. Over six weeks, 60 percent of jurisdictions responded, representing low, medium, and high STD morbidity areas. Responding programs also reflect all geographic regions and include directly funded metropolitan areas.
Our survey data and direct outreach to stakeholders paint a clear picture of the disruptions STD programs experienced over the past 10 months. Programs responding to our first survey told us that 78 percent of their staff were redeployed to assist with their jurisdiction’s COVID-19 response. As of January 2021, 37 percent of responding programs’ staff are deployed to the COVID-19 response. This continued diversion of staff and other resources has caused delays in providing disease intervention services, leaving some STDs completely unchecked. STD programs continue to report clinic closures, reduced clinic hours and services, STD testing kit shortages, and diminished laboratory capacity. Additionally, STD programs report severe burnout as disease intervention specialists (DIS) pivot from COVID-19 investigations and contact tracing back to STD disease intervention and partner services work.