Time to Get Checked? We Tested the Test Centers
Even if you’re at low risk for HIV it’s a tremendous relief to be told that you are, for sure, negative.
If you test positive, you’re legally obligated to tell your partners. But before you go, know that HIV doesn’t appear on tests until three months after exposure.
Scoping out a few clinics in the area, my first stop was a harrowing nip into the New York City Health Department clinic in Chelsea (303 Ninth Ave) where they take walk ins Monday though Sunday. At midday on a Monday the cramped waiting room was half full. A public service video of the “that’s why I always use condoms now” variety played and information cards were stacked on a table with a stamp machine and a bowl of condoms.
I was almost instantly called into an adjoining office and instructed to fill out my name and birth date on the card, which also provided a set of limited check mark options answering the questions of what you’re there to be tested for and why. None of the options allowed for my “better safe than sorry” motive.
The receptionist asked whether or not I’d been exposed to HIV, which gave me the feeling most visitors to this clinic have specific reasons for getting tested.
I didn’t wind up getting tested (there was an hour wait) which was actually a relief due to the overall vibe of the place, which was that it’s a last resort for those in desperate need.
Unless you feel strongly that you want to be tested anonymously — in other words, not give any information about yourself to the tester — a service only government facilities offer, I wouldn’t suggest going there. Most clinics give the option of confidential testing, which means that although you and your tester are the only ones to know the results, you agree to give basic information about yourself, such as your birth date and racial background, and an assessment of your risk. This data is amassed into databases at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other government agencies.
For a confidential test, go no further than the New School’s Student Health Services (80 Fifth Ave., third floor) in their brightly lit, spacious new locale. Every Monday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. you can take a free preliminary HIV test via oral swab administered by a representative from the Hispanic AIDS Forum. If the test comes back positive, a sample is sent to a lab for further tests.
The results take a mere 20 minutes, during which you’ll be preoccupied answering questions to assess your risk factor.
For tests at most clinics, be prepared to answer all manner of questions about your sex life — who you’ve had sex with, when you had sex with them, whether or not you’ve used protection or been sober. If you’ve ever donated blood before, it’s essentially the same set of questions.
The representative at New School was professional and her demeanor, as well as the fact that she encouraged me to ask questions, was comforting. Being tested with other students may sound intimidating, but being in a room full of strangers from all over the city is also formidable. It depends on your preference. Student Health Services is altogether a much more relaxed environment than any other clinic that provides free testing and requires the fewest hoops to jump through.
Another nearby clinic is the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (119 W. 24th St., 11th floor), which, despite the name, is open to all genders and sexual orientations. As you might figure from the name, they mostly serve the HIV-positive community, but the low key, if slightly tenuous, environment is not unwelcoming.
I went on a Tuesday, and although their website claims they do walk ins, and the receptionist asked me to sign up for a Friday appointment, to which I was instructed to bring my Social Security number, a W-2 form and a state ID.
The Gay Men’s Health Crisis has a calmer atmosphere than the government testing facility, and they offer free tests for Syphilis and Hepatitis C as well as HIV.
Another option for testing is Planned Parenthood with locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx. Their tests aren’t free, but they are covered by some insurance plans.
I tried to reserve an appointment on their website, a process that requires you to sign up as a Planned Parenthood patient. If you do that, you’ll need to answer a few more questions than I would’ve wanted to, and you’ll need to request an appointment at a preferred location.
I never heard from them even though their site said I would get a response within 48 hours. The useful thing about Planned Parenthood, should you manage to get through, is that you can test for pretty much any STD you request. It’s nerve-racking to wonder, no matter how low your risk may theoretically be, whether you could have HIV or another STD. So stop the wondering and go get
your ass tested.