Karla Jefferies is shown in her home. Jefferies

Long COVID leaves many with lasting complications

Nearly 1 in 5 adults who have had COVID are still suffering from long COVID symptoms, according to reports from the CDC. However, rehabilitation treatment is available and becoming more accessible.

Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, M.D., chair of Rehabilitation Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, said the COVID patients she treats suffer from long-term, debilitating symptoms. She said there are more than 200 symptoms associated with long COVID with some of the most common being:

  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Chronic cough
  • Hair loss
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Physical pain
  • Brain fog
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Blood clots
  • Heart complications

“COVID is still here and there are still people with long COVID. Don’t throw away your masks. COVID is not over,” Gutierrez said.

She noted the problems patients can face.

“These patients have really debilitating fatigue that impacts their quality of life and their ability to do activities,” Gutierrez said. “So some people aren’t able to go to work, some people can’t even help to clean in their home or cook a meal.”

Because there is such a wide range of long COVD symptoms, rehabilitation programs are multidisciplinary and often long-term as patients may need a range of treatment options including speech, physical, occupational and vocational rehab.

Gutierrez said she is hoping to educate patients on the options they have available to them, including healthcare workers, rehab counselors and social workers to aid those who may not have the resources or ability to pay for long-term care.

On the national level, the Biden-Harris administration has been working to make resources more accessible as two new reports on long COVID have recently been released. The reports provide individuals with both federal and local resources such as health care coverage options and methods to locate a range of trustworthy medical services.

The Services and Supports for Longer-Term Impacts of COVID-19 report by the Department of Health and Human Services highlights resources for health care workers and includes information on health insurance coverage.The National Research Action Plan on Long COVID is the first national research agenda focused on advancing prevention, diagnosis, treatment and services for those experiencing Long COVID. Both reports also include research regarding health inequality – relating factors such as access, education and income with higher rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.

The National Research Action Plan writes, “Implications of Long COVID on such factors affecting health equity could further exacerbate disparities, particularly among racial and ethnic minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities who have been historically underserved.”

Lack of insurance and health literacy can be a significant barrier for those seeking long-term COVID treatment. Black, Indigenous and Latinx populations are more likely to be affected by COVID because of healthcare disparities.

“That was one of the saddest days of my clinic practice,” Gutierrez said. “I saw someone who had had COVID, was hospitalized, had fatigue, could barely walk because she’d been in hospital for so long, and when I saw her she said, ‘This is my last day of insurance and then tomorrow, I might lose it.’”

With public health and the ongoing pandemic remaining a widely debated topic, medical professionals and government officials are continuing to increase access to accurate information and care options.

“What’s unfortunate is that it’s become so political and it cannot be political because it is something that impacts humans,” Gutierrez said. “Public health is not separated by party lines. We need to take these public health crises seriously.”