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The Upside of Being Undetectable During a Pandemic

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Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Living through COVID-19 is a different experience for people living with HIV.

You may not think that were would be perks that can come with being HIV-positive and undetectable during a pandemic, and you would be wrong.

As we all continue to make it through this hellacious year of COVID, many of us are still vacillating between overly cautious and overly exposed. Even though the CDC has issued what seem to be pretty clear guidelines to curb the spread of infection, each state has taken its own approach akin to their political culture that has left us all a little confused. However, everyone seems to grasp that those with underlying health conditions should proceed with the most caution, for they are the most at risk to die.

Throughout the pandemic, I have heard several iterations of the same sentiment from well-meaning people. The belief was that I should be more cautious than most because of my HIV-status. And in the beginning, I certainly was concerned as to whether my immune system was, indeed, considered an underlying health condition. However, as the year has progressed, my nervous concern turned into a careful confidence.

During my routine quarterly visit with my physician to check my labs, I was able to ask questions and confirm what the logical side of my brain suspected all along. So long as I was undetectable, my HIV status was not a factor in my risk for developing a severe case of COVID. Naturally, I was relieved. Just like in all other facets of my life, being on treatment meant that my life was relatively unaffected. In fact, I was at an advantage.

Not only did my lab results reveal my T cell count and viral load, it gave me a detailed insight into the status of my health. From my liver and kidney functions to my bone density, I had literal inside information that most people my age never get, much less on a quarterly basis. This didn’t give me license to be reckless or disregard precaution, but it did give me reassurance that my health was in my control.

This perk of being HIV-positive and undetectable isn’t as much of a side effect of my status as it is a symptom of my privilege. And in 2020, privilege is the largest underlying condition that can often be the difference between being at-risk or not. And for so many who are privileged enough to be able to work from home, access health care, and stock up on food and other household items, the simple task of wearing a mask and avoiding crowds is still too much to ask.

You know, another advantage that comes from being HIV-positive and undetectable is that is has taught me to not just value my own health, but the health of my community. I don’t just take my medication so that I can stay healthy; I take it to do my part in stopping the spread of the virus. After all, what is the point of surviving if those who you love are no longer around to share your life with?

The differences between HIV and COVID far outweigh the similarities, but there is a lesson of placing the health of others ahead of your own wants and desires that carries throughout.

So mask up and stay vigilant, my friends. For some people, this is actually their first rodeo. But it sure as hell isn’t ours.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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