Covid ‘long haulers’ struggle to work in the midst of labor shortages

“I almost live here in the living room,” Bedell said of her house near Pittsburgh. “I feel like I lost the life I had.”

Last November, she and her family hired Covid-19. The virus killed her father.
Nearly a year later, she is still battling post-Kovid syndrome, a mysterious long-term condition plaguing some coronavirus patients, and she remains so ill that she is unable to work.
Bedell, who is 42, holds a long list of her symptoms, including severe fatigue, cognitive impairment – known as “brain fog” – and constant pain. She puts on 60 pounds, and often sleeps on the couch because she can’t find the strength to climb the stairs to her bedroom.

She needs a walker to walk around the house and a wheelchair for medical appointments.

“I literally can’t even leave my house alone,” she said.

Prior to Covid, Laurie was the nursing director of a home health agency, but she had not worked since January. After exhausting her paid leisure time, she was fired. She says there was no way she could work in her current state.

“I barely work a few days,” she said. “I can barely get out of bed or get up from the couch. The pain and fatigue are so severe that I literally can’t move.”

Bedell’s case is stern but not unique.

Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn and his team at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, treat and study post-Covid syndrome.

“Work problems were one of the most significant problems we encountered in our patient population,” Vanichkachorn said. “Up to about 40% of our patients do not return to work several months after their infection.”

Looking at data from their clinic and several other studies, they noticed an annoying trend.

“We estimate that approximately 1.3 million individuals are out of work now due to symptoms of‘ long-distance ’Covid,” he said.

Although it is only an estimate, Vanichkachorn says that could mean more than a million Americans are out of the workforce as the country deals with labor shortages and more than 10 million open jobs in August.

“I think it’s entirely credible,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at economic research organization Moody’s Analytics, said of the assessment.

“A lot of those jobs aren’t filled because people are struggling with Covid,” Zandi told CNN. “Long Covid is an increasingly significant setback to the job market for businesses to start operating and, ultimately, for the wider economy to start working.”

The United States is launching a study on long Covid in tens of thousands of patients
Studies of Post-Covid syndrome are still in their infancy, but early estimates indicate that 10% or more of Covid patients may experience long-term symptoms. A study published in June by the nonprofit FAIR Health found that 23% of Covid patients sought treatment for post-Covid symptoms a month or more after their diagnoses.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 46 million Americans have contracted Covid-19.
A recent U.S. Census Bureau survey estimated that 3.7 million Americans are out of work because they either care for someone or get sick with coronavirus symptoms. The survey also found about 2.5 million people are not working because they care about getting or spreading Covid.

Dr. Tae Chung runs a long-term Covid clinic for Johns Hopkins Medicine, treating long-term carriers with a range of conditions and symptoms.

“I’m not surprised if 1.3 million or more people are out there workforce because of long Covid, “he said.” Because if you really understand the symptoms, you know, that affects their daily life at work. “

Vanichkachorn says most of the patients they study have well-paid jobs and good health insurance, and he cares about demographics that are missing from their data.

“My fear is that there are individuals who are severely suffering from this condition, but they just can’t take time off work to go take care of it,” he said. “They have to work to keep the lights on, keep food on the table.”

Jennifer Hobbs is a preschool teacher in Medford, Oregon. She suffered long Covid symptoms for a year, from severe fatigue to hair loss.

“I have a headache every day for a year,” she said.

But after a month off, she returned to her classroom, needing the income and health insurance.

“It was almost impossible for me to think about leaving,” she said. “I don’t know how I do it. I’m just getting through the day.”

The U.S. government recognizes long-term Covid as a disability, and patients can apply for financial aid. But that can take months, and many long haulers say they have been denied.

Bedell applied for a disability in September and is still awaiting a response.

“I really loved being a nurse, and losing that job and losing that part of me was really hard,” she said. “I became one of the patients I cared for.”

She and her husband spent their savings and retirement funds to pay the bills.

“It was a disaster for us,” she said. “That’s my biggest concern, honestly. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to go back to work.”


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