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Long COVID and the Economy

Health & Gender Policy Brief #146 | By: Rosalind Gottfried | January 26, 2022

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Policy Summary

Long Covid may affect well over a million people who contracted the virus.  The syndrome manifests in pulmonary, cardiovascular, and nervous system symptoms which can persist for months after initial illness and may even occur in those who never were sick initially.  Ailments can include shortness of breath; erratic heartbeats and blood pressure; fatigue; pain, and an inability to concentrate and a general “fuzziness.”  Those suffering from these conditions can also succumb to depression and anxiety, whether that is a primary symptom or a consequence of the fall out form the syndrome.  In a study of over 250,000 Covid patients, over half expressed some declines six months after the initial infection.  These include physical and psychological impairments.  Twenty percent reported a decline in mobility; 25% felt a decline in concentration; 20% experienced hair loss and/or rashes; and many people reported cardiovascular and gastrointestinal effects. 

The fallout can be severe.  The inability to work can result in loss of jobs and benefits such as health insurance.  Many who must quit, or get fired, and suffer multiple illnesses are unable to pay for care and are losing homes, cars, and potentially family who cannot cope with the stressors.  Some people who have long term health insurance have reported that their insurers are denying claims as is the government disability offices of the Social Security Administration.  The National Institute of Health has committed 1.15 billion dollars to study long term Covid.

The impact of deaths from Covid goes beyond the number of people who have passed away.  If we consider a deathrate of 1 million people, and calculate Years of Life Lost (YLL), the average is nine years because many covid patients are older.  But other people have succumbed from Covid and they had potentially longer lives.  Estimates suggest that the total years of life lost will exceed ten million from deaths.  The recent reporting of long Covid suggests that the loss to the economy, in terms of loss of producers (work) and consumers will have a far-reaching impact than just those due to death.

Policy Analysis

With estimates of those who have had Covid reaching 50 million, it is difficult to estimate how many will ultimately succumb to long Covid though it is surely clear that the cost to the economy will be severe.  There are at least two aspects to this situation; the first is paying for the care and treatment of the syndrome and the support of the those afflicted.  The government safety net must be addressed as individual needs may far surpass current provisions.  The second issue is to compensate for the lack of labor force participation and the reduced consumption of those who cannot return to the paths they were on previous to the pandemic. 

The medical professionals need to be able to define the syndrome so that people can qualify for aid.  Currently, it is vaguely described as persistent symptoms which cannot be explained by another condition. 

The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance abuse.

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The government should develop a policy to subsidize those who cannot work, or who can only work part time, so that they don’t fall into worse situations from which they will be unable to extract themselves.  Some fear that the depression from the loss of previous work and quality of life could result in a swelling of suicide and opioid use.  

Private employers would be wise to allow people who suffer from Covid related syndromes to work part time; to work from home; and to keep benefits such as health insurance.  The prevalence of long term Covid deserve the attention, concern, and resources we can muster as a nation.

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