Long COVID keeps people off work for months, study finds

Long COVID keeps people off work for months, study finds

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  • January 24, 2023
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Although COVID-19 infections have been declining for a year, the elusive disease known as long COVID is having a clear impact on US workers. New research shows many employees report they are too ill to return to work or need ongoing medical treatment.

According to a report by the New York State Insurance Fund (NYSIF), New York state’s largest worker’s compensation insurer, nearly a third of worker’s compensation claimants in the state have long-term COVID, with more men than women suffering from the disease.

Of New York residents who applied for employment contracts because of long-term COVID, about 70% said they had symptoms that left them unemployed or requiring continued medical care for at least six months.

People with long-term COVID often suffer from a range of physical and neurological symptoms, including muscle pain and difficulty concentrating, which can last months and even years after the onset of COVID-19 infection. Symptoms can vary in severity and in some cases are physically and mentally debilitating.

“I feel like I’m in my 70s”

Bartender Tabitha Turchio, who has been battling the disease for nearly two years, told CBS News that “a good day” for her is one when she can “get out of bed and even walk.”

“There are times when my muscles and joints hurt so much and the weakness I develop makes it difficult to go up and down my stairs. I feel like I’m in my 70’s. I feel like the time was taken from me,” she said in an interview last fall.

Medical professionals are still struggling to understand what makes a person vulnerable to developing prolonged COVID symptoms and to develop cures. CBS News Medical Associate Celine Gounder said in October, “There’s a lot more than we don’t know about long COVID than we know about long COVID.”

NYSIF’s new analysis sheds light on some of the cascading effects of COVID-19 as restrictions and containment measures fall by the wayside. The fund analyzed more than 3,000 compensation claims from COVID-19 workers during the first two years of the pandemic.

It shows that the ongoing impact of the pandemic is profound: more than a year after contracting the coronavirus, 18% of long-COVID patients had still not returned to work. More broadly, the study illustrates the impact COVID is having on the American workforce, including declining labor force participation and a continued increase in job openings.

An estimated 16 million working-age Americans have long-term COVID, according to Census Bureau data. A report by the nonprofit Brookings Institution estimates that between 2 and 4 million of these adults are disabled because of the disease.

In a positive sign, the New York report noted that long COVID claims have fallen sharply, from 44% of all COVID-related claims in March 2020 to 8% in March 2022.

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