Persistent Long COVID Symptoms Keep Many Americans Out of Work

The Coronavirus pandemic has been going on for three years, and for some 16 million Americans, the effects of COVID-19 and long COVID symptoms have not gone away. They suffer from long COVID, a condition that causes lasting symptoms after the initial infection. For many of them, long COVID has impaired their ability to do everyday tasks, including their work.

I would bet somewhere around 500,000. That would not include people who have reduced their hours. So I’m talking about just people who are out of the workforce due to long COVID. And the afflicted don’t appear to be coming back anytime soon, due to a slew of symptoms.

Katie Bach

Economics Correspondent Paul Solman reports on this issue.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz: Three years after the start of the pandemic, some 16 million Americans have long COVID, meaning their symptoms continue well after the initial infection. An estimated four million people say long COVID has significantly reduced their ability to carry out day-to-day activities. For many of them, that includes their jobs. Economics correspondent Paul Solman has our story, which was produced by Diane Lincoln Estes.Carly Anna Hurst, Daughter of Meredith Hurst: COVID just make things harder.
  • Paul Solman: Six-year-old Carly Anna (ph) Hurst remembers her mom before long COVID.
  • Carly Anna Hurst:She, well, when on some walks with me.
  • Paul Solman:And she can’t do that now?
  • Carly Anna Hurst:No.
  • Paul Solman:Is it sad?
  • Carly Anna Hurst:Yes.
  • Paul Solman:Carly Anna’s 22-year-old brother, Dan, says their mom is mostly out of action these days.Dan, Son of Meredith Hurst: She tends to be bedridden a lot more.
  • Paul Solman:How much?
  • Dan:At least a good bit of the day every day.
  • Meredith Hurst, Long COVID Patient:My activity is sitting here talking to you. That’s a lot for me.
  • Paul Solman:Single mom Meredith Hurst was a paralegal in Wilmington, Delaware.
  • Meredith Hurst:How was school today?
  • Carly Anna Hurst:Good.
  • Paul Solman:She hasn’t been able to work in three years, doing this interview, a struggle.
  • Meredith Hurst:I have to prepare in advance by resting days in advance. And then, getting ready today, I had to take breaks between, because I get shortness of breath while I was getting dressed.I also get extremely exhausted getting dressed.
  • Paul Solman:Now, I cover economics, not medicine, but long COVID, it turns out, may be a major factor and one of the most bedeviling trends in the economy these days, the lack of workers.
  • David Lazer, Northeastern University: People who get long COVID are more likely to be subsequently unemployed.
  • Paul Solman: So says Northeastern University’s David Lazer.
  • David Lazer: It’s a significant effect. They are 16 percent less likely to be employed.
  • Katie Bach, Brookings Institution: We do have a big long COVID problem.
  • Paul Solman: There are many others who, like Meredith Hurst, are no longer working, says researcher Katie Bach.
  • Katie Bach: I would bet somewhere around 500,000. That would not include people who have reduced their hours. So I’m talking about just people who are out of the workforce due to long COVID. And the afflicted don’t appear to be coming back anytime soon, due to a slew of symptoms.
  • Meredith Hurst: I will get pain down my arm, elbows, hands, shortness of breath, tachycardia, extreme exhaustion.
  • Phillip Baczewski (Long COVID Patient): The pain in my foot is awful.
  • Paul Solman: Phillip Baczewski was a social worker for the state of Massachusetts.
  • Phillip Baczewski: I had been an adoption social worker. I had done social work for 25 years.
  • Paul Solman: But COVID put him in the hospital back in March of 2020. And he’s never been the same.
  • Phillip Baczewski: My stamina, ability to go up and down the stairs is a struggle. I have had to use a cane for years now.
  • Paul Solman: Another symptom actually recurred during our interview with, brain fog.
  • Phillip Baczewski:I can’t tell you how long we have been talking right now, but this is where it gets harder to focus.
  • Chimere Smith (Long COVID Patient): I feel every nerve in my body now that I didn’t used to feel before I had COVID and long COVID.
  • Paul Solman: Chimere Smith was a teacher in Baltimore before she got sick.
  • Chimere Smith: My body is broken. On some days, I feel like a cracker that somebody can put in their hands and just crumble, because that is how my body feels.
  • Paul Solman: Smith first discussed her condition the “NewsHour” two years ago.
  • Chimere Smith: It felt like a ghost or a monster had started to inhabit my body.
  • Paul Solman: And today?
  • Chimere Smith: Now my memory has gotten progressively worse.
  • Paul Solman: Interacting with, you seem as sharp as anybody I ever talk to.
  • Chimere Smith: Long COVID is a very sneaky, invisible condition that people don’t recognize unless there are visible symptoms. And so, today, I feel OK. But when you leave here, and when this conversation ends, I will be on my couch for the next five to six hours, because this conversation itself is exhausting.
  • Paul Solman: Post-exertional malaise, Meredith Hurst had it for a week after our interview, as her son documented.Phillip Baczewski is heartbroken he can no longer do the adoption work he loves.
  • Phillip Baczewski: When you can match a child who really needs a family to a family, it feels wonderful to be able to say, all right, now you’re going to move on as a family.
  • Paul Solman: Baczewski asked for accommodations to return part-time.
  • Phillip Baczewski: They said I either come back full-time, work at full capacity of what I was doing before, or tender my resignation.
  • Paul Solman: And that’s what you had to do?
  • Phillip Baczewski: That’s what I ultimately had to do.
  • Meredith Hurst: When I tried to go back to work, I got physically sick.
  • Paul Solman: Hurst tried to return to work twice.
  • Meredith Hurst: The sore throat, the lymph nodes, the exhaustion, the fever, achiness. And that’s what happens when I ever exert myself.
  • Chimere Smith: I loved my job. I will pat myself on the back to say I was an extraordinary teacher.
  • Paul Solman: Chimere Smith’s realization she could no longer teach really hurts.
  • Chimere Smith: You know, as a Black girl growing up in Southeast D.C., in the hood, in a poor community, people would tell me, because I was like the nerdy girl, you should teach. You should teach.When I became a teacher, it was like the puzzle pieces of my life just started to fit together. That was my true calling.
  • Paul Solman: But not anymore. And the financial toll is immense.
  • Chimere Smith: Eighty percent of my income is government-assistant based. So I receive Social Security. I am on Section 8.
  • Paul Solman:Housing.
  • Chimere Smith: Yes. And I receive food stamps from the government.
  • Paul Solman: Simply applying for benefits has been hard for Hurst.
  • Meredith Hurst: I did try to apply for Social Security disability on my own. And due to my disability, I was unable to complete the application.
  • Paul Solman: How do you survive?
  • Meredith Hurst: Sadly, I’m maxing out my credit cards. I have drained my 401(k) at this point. I am going to be applying again for Social Security disability, in hopes of having some income, and assistance from family.
  • Paul Solman: And long COVID is taking its toll on the economy as well. Total estimate? In the hundreds of billions, says Bach.
  • Katie Bach: It includes lost wages for people who are not working. It includes increased health care costs, and then there’s lost quality of life, which is a concept in health economics where there is a cost to people suffering.
  • Paul Solman: Suffering Phillip Baczewski knows only too well.
  • Phillip Baczewski: I have gone through times of, I haven’t left my room for days, depression, thoughts of suicide, rage.
  • Paul Solman: Chimere Smith has been there.
  • Chimere Smith: I wasn’t teaching. I couldn’t stand up. I could hardly move my body. I was nauseous all the time. I couldn’t poop. I could hardly pee. I wanted to die.
  • Carly Anna Hurst: This tree grows in the country.
  • Paul Solman: Finally, there’s the cost to others, like the kids of Meredith Hurst.Hurst mourns the mother she once was.
  • Meredith Hurst: And we would go to the mountains and take vacations and things like that. And I’m not able to do that anymore.They’re memories now, the memories of a life I used to live that I’m not able to anymore.
  • Paul Solman: Memories her daughter shares.
  • Carly Anna Hurst: We also used to do a bunch of picnics.
  • Paul Solman: No more?
  • Carly Anna Hurst: Nuh-uh.
  • Paul Solman: Painful even for the reporter…
  • Carly Anna Hurst: This apple tree.
  • Paul Solman: … and perhaps you too. For the “PBS NewsHour,” Paul Solman.

Source – PBS News Hours

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *