SAAF Condemns COVID-19 Mask-Wearing Comparison to HIV/AIDS Prevention Strategies

Last week Arizona House Bill 2770 was passed, allowing for business owners to determine whether masks are required in their places of business. According to news reports, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Joseph Chaplik, persuaded the Arizona House to let businesses ignore mask mandates to stem COVID spread in part by arguing that they were not needed decades ago to stop the spread of AIDS.

As Southern Arizona’s largest AIDS service organization, the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF) believes it is vital to our community’s health and safety that we correct any false or misleading information that relates to reducing the transmission of COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS. Setting up a false equivalency between the spread of COVID-19 and the spread of HIV/AIDS is both disingenuous and dangerous. SAAF’s CEO, Ravi Grivois-Shah, comments: “While the current COVID-19 pandemic is often compared to the HIV epidemic, including the issues of community impact and individual isolation, Representative Chaplik’s use of the HIV pandemic in supporting legislation that would allow businesses to ignore COVID-19 mask mandates is careless.”

There are key differences between the spread of COVID-19 and the spread of HIV/AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that primarily spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.” Scientific studies show us that masks slow the spread of COVID-19, because they help keep people who are infected from spreading respiratory droplets to others when they breathe, cough, sneeze, or talk.

As a virus, HIV is transmitted through semen, blood, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk and cannot be spread through saliva. Because HIV/AIDS is not a respiratory disease, mask-wearing has never been a public health measure used to reduce its spread. Instead, through advances in science and technology, we have at our disposal several strategies to reduce the acquisition and transmission of HIV/AIDS including: HIV testing, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP and PEP), condoms, and antiretroviral treatments (treatment as prevention). These prevention strategies are at the core of the work we do at SAAF, and individuals may access any one of these prevention measures when they come to SAAF.

HIV/AIDS compromises the immune system of those people living with the virus, putting them at increased risk for serious or fatal complications of COVID-19. Without mask mandates, those people living with HIV/AIDS are unable to safely leave their homes and enter public spaces, as there is nothing in place to protect them from potentially contracting COVID-19. Many of our clients have been isolated for a year and counting as they stay at home to protect themselves. To falsely use their HIV status as a reason to remove the very measures that would ensure their safety adds insult to injury to people who are struggling with the effects of long-term social isolation that is needed in the absence of effective public health strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

SAAF urges the community to continue following the CDC’s recommendations around mask-wearing in public spaces, even as restrictions are being lifted. For more information about COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS, please visit the CDC website.

Save Lives By Supporting Virtual AIDSWALK Tucson 2020

Large red ribbons witht he word "REemember" are displayed along a sidewalk for HIV awareness

By Rachel McMenamin, Grants Coordinator at the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation

As most things look different during this pandemic, so will the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation’s annual AIDSWALK Tucson. For the safety of walkers, volunteers, clients, staff and our community, this year’s AIDSWALK has gone virtual. SAAF will host a week long AIDSWALK celebration from October 12-18. All activities will be held virtually and walkers are encouraged to walk individually in any way and any place they choose to walk. 

While AIDSWALK may look different, what remains the same is our community’s commitment to coming together to bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. What remains the same is our community’s commitment to making sure our immunocompromised neighbors living with HIV/AIDS have access to care, housing, food and community.  

During this pandemic, people living with HIV are living in fear for their health, for their safety, for their access to basic needs such as food, shelter, hygiene and human connection. During this pandemic it is clearer now more than ever that we need the testing, the prevention efforts, and the community education to bring the HIV/AIDS epidemic to an end. 

Here’s how you can help support your immunocompromised neighbors and help to bring HIV to an end. Join in the fun of fundraising and walking for a cause that saves lives.  Join SAAF for AIDSWALK Celebration Week this October 12-18. Here’s how: 

  1. Register online at Once you register, you will receive emails and updates providing you with more information about AIDSWALK, tips and tricks for fundraising and ideas for your walk.  
  2. Set a fundraising Goal: Setting a goal for your fundraising efforts will give you something to work towards and celebrate when you surpass it. 
  3. Invite Friends and Family to join you: Make a walking team and invite friends and family to join. 
  4. Fundraise to meet your goal: Share why you walk on your social media channels. 
  5. Attend SAAF’s drive through registration event: On October 12 and 13 drive to SAAF’s main office at 375 S. Euclid Ave. Signs will direct cars to the back of the building where you may pick up incentives and t-shirts and interact safely with vendors. Drop off any extra donations from your fundraising efforts.  
  6. Tune into SAAF’s Social Media throughout the week of October 12-18 for access to virtual programming: Raise awareness and learn more about HIV/AIDS and prevention efforts in a fun and interactive way. We will also be live streaming the traditional AIDS Memorial Quilts Ceremony to remember and honor those we have lost to AIDS.
  7. AIDSWALK Your Wheels: Decorate your cars/bikes/skates to show your support for AIDSWALK for the week of October 12-18. 
  8. Walk. Run. Have Fun:  Once you register, you can walk whenever you want. Be creative and walk as far as you want and where you want. Walk in a park, go for a run around the block, walk on a treadmill, walk in your house. The possibilities are endless! 
  9. Take Selfies and share your walk on social media: Please take selfies of you walking and supporting this year’s AIDSWALK. You are invited to share your selfies in an email with SAAF’s Events Manager Jess Patrick at  and please share your photos on social media using the hashtag #AIDSWALKTucson2020.
  10. 10.Make a gift at SAAF is uniquely positioned to address the needs of HIV-positive individuals whose safety, health, and very lives are threatened by this pandemic. Your gift to SAAF can save lives.

Prizes will be given to walkers who raise the most money as individuals or teams. For any questions about this year’s AIDSWALK, please contact SAAF’s Events Manager, Jess Patrick at SAAF is especially grateful to the generous sponsors of this year’s walk: TEP, Walgreens and GEICO.

National HIV Testing Day is June 27

GetTestedHIV testing is the only way to know for sure if someone has HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the more than 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States today, 1 in every 7 is not aware of their positive status. That means they aren’t getting the medical care they need. We encourage HIV testing on National HIV Testing Day as well as every day to ensure people get tested for HIV, know their status, and get linked to care and treatment services.
June 27 is designated National HIV Testing Day to encourage people to learn their HIV status. CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. People with certain risk factors should get tested more often.
On this day, we unite with partners, such as CODAC, COPE Community Services Inc., Pima County Health Department, and Walgreens to raise awareness about the importance of HIV testing and early diagnosis of HIV.
The following locations will be providing rapid HIV testing on June 27, 2017:
Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation
375 S. Euclid Avenue
(520) 547-6128
CODAC Living Out Loud clinic
3130 E. Broadway Blvd
(520) 202-1832
9:00am – 4:00pm
COPE Community Services
5401 E. 5th Street
(520) 798-1772
PCHD – Theresa Lee Clinic
1493 W. Commerce Ct.
(520) 724-7900
8:00am – 4:00pm
PCHD – North Clinic
3550 N. 1st Ave
(520) 724-2880
8:00am – 4:00pm
Walgreens (Grant/Swan)
4685 E Grant Rd
3:00pm – 7:00pm

Desert Migration screening is Sunday September 18

Desert Migration posterSunday September 18 is National HIV/AIDS Aging Awareness day and SAAF will commemorate this occasion with a screening of the documentary Desert Migration at the Loft Cinema.
When the first effective HIV treatments were introduced in the mid-1990s, a generation of HIV+ gay men were thrown a lifeline. What happened to these men who thought they were terminally ill only to discover they would now survive? Desert Migration introduces us to such a group of men in their fifties and sixties who have made Palms Springs in the California desert their home, where they have found a community of kindred spirits. Having anticipated certain death these long-time survivors are now unexpectedly living to old age which brings with it a new set of issues.  Director Daniel F. Cardone’s documentary beautifully captures their life-affirming, bittersweet stories amid the surreal desert landscapes, making us confront our own mortality.
Please join us for this one-time-only screening at 2:00pm on Sunday September 18. Tickets are limited to fewer than 100 so purchase online today to ensure your seat. This screening will be followed by a Skype interview with director Cardone.