Lynne Meyerkord has experience with health epidemics as a more than 30-year staffer at AIDS Project of the Ozarks.
The nonprofit's executive director since 1998, Meyerkord said she sees many similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Meyerkord spoke this morning for Springfield Business Journal's 12 People You Need to Know live interview series, held virtually via Facebook Live.
Similar to the 1980s and '90s, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was in full force, Meyerkord said the coronavirus pandemic quickly drew out people who either didn't believe in it or didn't think it was a serious situation.
"The similarities are striking," she said.
Meyerkord said face masks – mandated by Springfield City Council in response to the coronavirus – are similar to condoms that were recommended amid the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"Condoms were the way to go. That was the prevention tool we had," she said, noting abstinence was an option that was more difficult to recommend. "Wearing a mask is going to protect you and other folks.
"The resistance that is not based in logic is really similar to the resistance back in the '80s and '90s to condoms."
Similarly, Meyerkord has seen recovered COVID-19 patients who feel like they are a "pariah," a stigma she said continues to this day in the HIV and AIDS community.
To assuage fear related to the pandemic, Meyerkord said residents should follow the recommendations of public health officials on prevention and treatment.
CPO's operations also have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meyerkord said the nonprofit's clients – more than 5,000 people annually – are immunocompromised and encouraged to stay out of public spaces. As such, APO went to around 95% telehealth from 0% "literally overnight" as the pandemic started, she said.
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