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No cost STD testing clinic in Hillcrest closing after San Diego no longer considered 'higher risk' for HIV transmission

Good to Go has provided free and comprehensive STD/HIV screenings for 15 years to members of the LGBT community, but will close for good on March 17.

SAN DIEGO, Calif — After 15 years in service and more than 42,000 HIV screenings, Good to Go, a San Diego based LGBT health clinic will permanently close their doors following a decline in the rate of HIV transmission.

When Good to Go opened their doors in Hillcrest back in 2007 – their goal was simple, but daunting: get to zero. Zero transmissions of HIV infections in San Diego County. 

“People who are newly HIV infected, who have just acquired infection are the most infectious and those are the people who also often don’t know that they’re infected and are the most likely to transmit to other people," said Dr. Susan Little, a professor at UC San Diego's Department of Medicine and Co-Director of San Diego’s Antiviral Research Center. "So we were interested in helping to identify those people, link them into care and learn who those people were in San Diego so we could provide them care.”

The clinic ‘Good to Go’ originally opened under the name 'Lead the Way' as a campaign based out of UC San Diego and funded by the National Institute of Health to identify people during the earliest stages of HIV infection. Over the years that expanded to more comprehensive STD screenings and access to medication meant to reduce the risk of spread – all completely for free. 

“This is a free service that if you qualify you don’t have to pay anything," said Clinical Research Coordinator, Carlos Ibara. "They’re not going get a bill. It’s a safe space, and they’re going to get everything done for free.”

Dr. Little says they’re down to a fraction of positive HIV cases in San Diego County compared to 2009. In 2009, more than 1,000 new positive cases were being identified each year. 10 years later, in 2019, that number was more than cut in half – with fewer than 400 annual cases, and even fewer today.

With the rate of transmission of HIV so low in San Diego today and the cost of testing remaining high, the National Institute of Health no longer deems San Diego County a 'higher risk' area of transmission.

“HIV is not gone," said Dr. Little in an interview with CBS 8. "We still need help ending the epidemic. That’s really the priority right now. People who are living with HIV who need to stay in care are really now the priority as well as people who are at risk for acquiring HIV.”

That means instead of focusing on identifying the new positive cases, the mission of UC San Diego's Antiviral Research Center will shift to providing care and resources to people who are HIV positive or at high risk of contracting HIV. In the last decade, the amount of resources have grown dramatically. Antiretroviral therapy can reduce the viral load of someone living with HIV to the point where it’s undetectable and therefore untransmittable. 

In their 15 years while open, Good to Go also connected hundreds of participants with medication that can reduce the risk of HIV contraction for someone who is HIV negative to less than 1 percent.

"When talking about the pre-exposure prophylaxis medication, also known as PreP," Dr. Little said "It is incredibly effective, 96, 97% effective when taken appropriately and we want people to become more aware of it. We want people to feel comfortable living the lives they want to lead and that can be done with pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PreP).”

The team in charge of this campaign working both out of the clinic and the UC San Diego antiviral research center tell us this story is bittersweet. After all – they cut HIV transmissions in our county to a fraction of what they were a decade ago. 

“So it is a great thing for that reason. But with that comes with the closure of services like this that are essential for the community," Ibara told CBS 8.

Many members of the LGBT community who have come to Good to go for years will now need to find a new place to get tested as they close their doors.

“What I want to do is make sure the people who have been coming to us for years — who trust us — are transitioned as smoothly as possible into another situation that works best for them," added Dr. Little. 

But as one door closes, another opens. The San Diego LGBT Community Center announced in February 2022 that they’ll provide free STD screening services to the local LGBT community beginning in March.

The final day for eligible members of the LGBT community to get a total test at Good to Go will be March 17th. 

For more information on the closure of Good to Go in San Diego and to book an appointment before their closure, visit their website: https://www.goodtogosd.com and click "Book Your Appointment."

To book an appointment at the LGBT Community Center, call 619-800-4252 (English and Spanish translators available), or send an email to bethegeneration@thecentersd.org. 

According to The Center, they are open "for limited in person services, Monday-Wednesday, 10am-7pm, and walk-ins for STI screening and HIV/HCV testing will be available based on staff availability. You can contact our Welcome Desk during these hours at 619-692-2077."

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Watch Related: The San Diego LGBT Community Center partially reopens to in-person services (Feb 11, 2022)

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