On a Wednesday evening in mid-October, people gathered in a parking lot off of Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston. A man played guitar; a woman talked about the perils of virtual schooling during the pandemic. Blue and green canopy tents covered folding tables that were set up with snacks and bags of fluffy sandwich rolls.
A makeshift wound-treatment center stood under one of the tents. The ground to its right, coated in layers of pastel-colored chalk, read “HIV TESTING” and directed people to a van that served as a temporary medical lab.
It was the atmosphere of a carnival and a refuge wrapped into one; free and welcoming to some of Charleston’s most stigmatized people — drug users and those who loved them. But HIV in Kanawha County was spreading at an unprecedented rate, and people were scared.
Robin Pollini, a substance abuse and infectious disease epidemiologist at West Virginia University, who has spent the last 20 years studying injection drug use, comments on syringe exchange programs in this story from Mountain State Spotlight.