- How Common is Long COVID?
- Where Can COVID Long Haulers Find Support?
- What is the Emotional, Financial, and Economic Impact of COVID and Long COVID?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above and believe that you may have Long COVID, you are not alone. While studies estimate 10-30% of people with COVID-19 will go on to experience Long COVID, that number may increase as we learn more about the virus, the new variants, and how the virus is affecting the body.
How Common is Long COVID? #
- A systematic review published on October 13, 2021, showed that more than 50% of COVID survivors suffer from symptoms at 6 months.
- Director of the Post-COVID Recovery Center in Staten Island University Hospital Thomas Gut, DO, reports “Data suggest that anywhere from 30 to 75 percent of patients will experience Long COVID symptoms that can persist anywhere from 1 month to a year.”
- A study looking at healthcare workers recovering from a mild to moderate COVID case showed more than 10% experienced at least one Long COVID symptom lasting for at least 8 months that disrupted their home, social, and work life.
- Long COVID prevalence estimates based on positive COVID numbers suggest the possibility of 4-23M Americans having Long COVID, with between 23-140M cases worldwide.
Where Can COVID Long Haulers Find Support? #
What is the Emotional, Financial, and Economic Impact of COVID and Long COVID? #
Long COVID is the largest mass disabling event in modern world history. In fact, COVID is 6 times more deadly than the polio outbreak in the 1940s and 1950s. While SARS-CoV-2 meant lockdowns, business closures, stress on hospitals and the medical community, and deaths around the world, the acute viral infection was just the beginning. With Long COVID, we are likely to see impacts on jobs and the economy, healthcare, and medical practice alongside the personal losses of people with Long COVID and their families.
Between 10-30% of COVID patients could experience symptoms of Long COVID.
To better understand this impact, we look closer at the current numbers. Based on the CDC Data Tracker (December 18, 2021), the current number of COVID cases in the United States is 50,479,372. If we look at 10-30%, we find 4,047,937 to 15,143,812 possible Long COVID cases in the United States alone. However, if we look globally, the number is even more concerning. The WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard on the same date showed the global numbers at 271,963,258. At a rate of 10-30%, we could be currently looking at 27,196,326 – 81,588,977 cases of Long COVID in the world. But the risk isn’t over as more cases add to the list every day.
So, what does this mean and how will it impact our world?
Impact on Individuals and Families #
For individuals and families, this means the arrival of a huge wave of chronically ill Americans. How many of these people will require short-term disability (if they can receive approval)? How many will never be able to return to the same level of employment? How many will become permanently disabled? Will children have to live with a chronic condition their entire lives?
As the numbers grow, researchers and doctors are looking to answer these questions. Meanwhile, Long COVID is already impacting families across the country, leaving many unable to make their monthly bills, maintain housing, and provide food for their families. While the federal government has declared Long COVID a possible disability, many patients are experiencing roadblocks in receiving aid. Because many patients were unable to obtain initial COVID tests during the early days of the pandemic, disability is hard to prove despite symptoms and a diagnosis from a physician specializing in Long COVID. This loophole leaves many without any support or answers and no idea as to when, or if, they might return to normal. Long COVID patients – like many with chronic conditions – are hearing that they are not sick enough for disability, despite being too sick to work.
For individuals and families, the loss of the ability to work can lead to lost income, home foreclosure, bankruptcy, and the loss of health insurance that so many need at this crucial time.
Impact on Children #
No one is safe from the risk of Long COVID, including children. The COVID pandemic has already been difficult for children. With family members passing away, schools closing and then opening in a virtual setting, changes to their regular routine, feelings of isolation, and many other challenges, these last couple of years have already made their mark.
Children with Long COVID face their own series of challenges. Brain fog and other cognitive symptoms can make it challenging to focus in school. Post-exertional malaise can mean it’s hard for kids to participate in the activities and play that they enjoy. Educators will require additional training in order to support children in the classroom.
Impact on Mental Health #
The COVID pandemic introduced an increase in mental health challenges worldwide as people were isolated during lockdowns and faced the stress of the unknown. For many, a Long COVID diagnosis can lead to additional mental health challenges. Many Long COVID patients suffer from physical symptoms that can become overwhelming, leading to the development of psychological symptoms. An early study showed that Long COVID patients suffer from an increased risk of depression and PTSD. In addition, in a letter published in May of 2020 Leo Sher, a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, suggested that all COVID-19 survivors and Long COVID patients be regarded as an elevated suicide risk and may need long-term psychological interventions as a part of their treatment plan.
Some common examples of altered mental health in connection to Long COVID can include:
- Directly neuropsych (completely embodied, neuroinflammation contributing to neuropsych)
- Pre-existing medical condition (anxiety and depression pre-COVID, for example, becoming one of your many continuing health concerns)
- Pandemic isolation, break of the usual routine, decrease in social time/family time
- Coping with a life-changing chronic illness that means you have to rework your entire identity
Impact on the Job Market #
The impact of Long COVID is going to be detrimental to the workforce. A recent study showed that 23% of Long COVID patients are unable to work and 45% must reduce their work schedule. Based on the number of Long COVID patients, this means the current workforce could lose 931,025 – 3.5 million employees. And this is only those that are unable to work at all. Others may still be able to work, but may need to reduce hours or have other accommodations made in order to continue working.
This major impact on the workforce will require changes from employers, allowing for a more flexible workplace. Changes such as increased sick leave, reduced daily hours, increased working from home, the creation of rest areas for employees, and employee support groups can help retain employees while they fight and recover from Long COVID. Without implementing these changes, employers may experience staffing shortages and loss of additional employees. One more sentence to punch this up
Another trend seen with Long COVID is the fact that it is not just affecting older adults and those with preexisting conditions. In fact, the majority of people with Long COVID appear to be in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, who were active and healthy before COVID. They have become disabled at the early stages of their professional lives; Long COVID has complicated their ability to advance in their career or even return to work at all.
Impact on the Health Care System #
The COVID pandemic has already taken a huge toll on the healthcare system worldwide as patients battled the initial SARS-CoV-2 virus, ICUs were overrun, and hospitalizations reached record numbers. Unfortunately, it isn’t over yet and Long COVID patients will also alter healthcare as we know it. Long COVID, or PASC, affects multiple systems throughout the body, which means that many different medical specialists are necessary for care. People with Long COVID need multidisciplinary care and, ideally, need that care coordinated under one roof. For this reason, researchers and physicians argue that multidisciplinary clinics specializing in Long COVID like RTHM, are necessary to provide whole-patient care, reducing the need for delays that arise from referrals and ensuring patients receive the care they need when they need it.
Overwhelmed Medical System and a Learning Curve #
Unfortunately, in an already overwhelmed health care system, the ability to create enough Long COVID specialty clinics may be difficult. Patients are often told they will have to travel hundreds of miles, and find that they are on a waiting list that is months long. In many cases, those that never received early COVID positive tests (when tests were not always available) are not qualifying for treatment at a Long COVID clinic, making treatment even more difficult for both the patient and healthcare professionals.
Finally, we are learning more and more about Long COVID every day, and this means that physicians are also learning. While there are no FDA-approved treatments for Long COVID, physicians and researchers are working together to determine the best options to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. Many clinicians were not familiar with post-viral chronic complex diseases before Long COVID, and many may feel unsure about how to help. This is why the experience of clinicians who have treated other post-viral chronic complex diseases – like ME/CFS, POTS, and MCAS – is more important than ever.
Clinicians new to the arena of post-viral disease may need to seek medical education opportunities. CMEs, or continuing medical education credits, are required for US clinicians to keep their licenses current. Pursuing these opportunities to learn about Long COVID and manage the cases of patients with chronic complex disease can be challenging given clinicians’ already-limited time.