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Millions of Americans Still Disabled by Long COVID

Millions of Americans Still Disabled by Long COVID

As our world continues to adjust to a “new normal” after the shocking events of the 2020 coronavirus, one of the more pressing concerns on many people’s minds is the appearance, endurance, and uncertainties of long COVID.

Long COVID (also known as long-haul COVID, post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, and post-COVID condition) is a medical phenomenon in which a patient previously affected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus develops new, returning, or ongoing symptoms. People can experience these effects as early as 4 weeks after contracting an infection, and symptoms are known to last weeks, months, or indefinitely to date.

How Is Long COVID Impacting American Life?

Even with research being conducted each and every day in an effort to seek definitive answers regarding the cause of long COVID, it can be frightening to consider the many unknowns that still surround the COVID-19 virus. For many Americans, debilitating symptoms have become their new reality. Many adults are suffering from long-term effects after contracting COVID-19, such as:

  • Fatigue that interferes with everyday life
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Digestive issues
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Rash
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Short-term memory loss or confusion
  • Brain fog (sluggish thoughts)
  • Changes in menstrual cycle
  • “Pins and needles” sensation
  • Mental health effects (such as depression and anxiety)
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Change or loss of smell and taste
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations

More severe symptoms of long COVID even include psychiatric disorders (such as dementia, seizures, and epilepsy) and other cognitive deficits that are a major cause of concern for many. It’s still unclear how COVID affects the human brain, although the medical community has stated that COVID-19 takes a toll on nearly every major body system and organ. As you can imagine, this has a drastic impact on one’s life.

For the 25 million Americans who have or are experiencing long COVID, it can be incredibly challenging to cope with simple day-to-day activities. In fact, 2-4 million Americans are currently out of work due to the long-term effects they’re suffering from long COVID. A recent study shows that almost 26% of people with long COVID have had their work significantly impacted (meaning they were either forced to stop work entirely or work reduced hours).

Of the U.S. adults affected by long COVID, more than 80% are impaired in their daily functioning. The phenomenon has left millions of Americans newly disabled as our medical community continues to seek an effective treatment plan for post-COVID condition.

For those who suffer from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), chronic fatigue is nothing new. Unfortunately, many people impacted by ME/CFS have already been forced to grow accustomed to the dismissal and stigma they often face in the world of modern healthcare. However, the growing prevalence of long COVID—specifically associated symptoms that worsen with mental or physical effort—has granted a renewed concentration and spotlight on effects such as chronic, debilitating fatigue that can easily impair a patient's day-to-day life.

Is Long COVID Considered a Disability?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), §504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and §1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, long COVID can be a disability.

To qualify, long COVID must cause an affected person to suffer from a significant physical or mental impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity, and symptoms must persist for at least 1 year.

Long COVID as a Physical Impairment

A physical impairment can include any physiological disorder that affects at least one body system (such as the neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular, or circulatory system). For example, people affected by long COVID can experience:

  • Lung damage
  • Heart damage (including inflammation of the heart muscle)
  • Kidney damage
  • Neurological damage
  • Damage to the circulatory system (resulting in poor blood flow)

Long COVID as a Mental Impairment

A mental impairment entails any mental or psychological disorder, including emotional or mental illnesses. For example, those suffering from long COVID may experience lingering emotional illness and other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or anhedonia.

Challenges of Long COVID as a Disability

While long COVID is technically classified as a disability, it can be difficult to acquire Social Security benefits. Obtaining sufficient proof that you suffer from long COVID as a disability can be challenging, as limited research, studies, and medical knowledge regarding post-COVID condition mean there isn't yet an official way to diagnose it.

Many medical professionals also struggle to formally identify long COVID as the cause for one’s symptoms when an outlying health issue could also be the cause.

Who Is Impacted the Most by Long COVID?

According to CDC data, as of September 2022, more than 1 in 4 U.S. adults with long COVID reported significant limitations on day-to-day activities.

However, this rate rises to 40% for Americans who are Black, Latino, or disabled. The percentage of those with long COVID soars higher for transgender people, disabled Americans, and those without a GED. The CDC also stated that the risk of contracting long COVID is higher for unvaccinated Americans and those who suffered particularly severe cases of infection.

Despite these statistics, it’s important to keep in mind that long COVID does not discriminate. Americans nationwide are developing long COVID regardless of race, gender, age, or previous disability.

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