Long COVID is contributing to America's labor shortage


Long COVID is likely keeping a lot of Americans out of the workforce, experts say, — and that could continue for years as people struggle with persistent health problems.

Long COVID isn't confined to older patients, and its symptoms can vary. The U.S. also doesn't have particularly strong support systems for people who need long-term COVID treatment.

  • 1.6 million workers could be missing from the labor market right now because of long COVID, accounting for upwards of 15% of unfilled jobs, according to an estimate from Katie Bach, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
  • This makes every aspect of the labor shortage "more severe," she told Axios.

 Studies have estimated long COVID prevalence falls anywhere from 5% to 60% of COVID cases. Splitting the difference at 30%, more than 22 million Americans may be suffering from long COVID symptoms, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

"Many of the patients we're seeing are in the 40-year-old range. They're people who are still working ... and then they got COVID," Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, director of the COVID Recovery Clinic at University Health in Texas, told Axios.

  • Researchers still don't understand what causes long COVID, and Verduzco-Gutierrez said she's seen a wide range of symptoms. Some patients had strokes, some required amputation, some developed asthma, and others developed POTS, which causes the heart rate to rise every time they stand up, she said.
  • Patients have said "their COVID-related fatigue was 100 times worse than when they had cancer and were going through chemotherapy," Verduzco-Gutierrez said.
  • She'll testify before a House subcommittee today about the debilitating impacts of long COVID. She's also calling for higher reimbursement to cover COVID clinic services and funding to improve the health care workforce's capacity to respond.

With the complexity of long COVID, there are typically several medical disciplines involved in treating these patients.

  • "We need Congress to be able to support these clinics and the workforce capacity for these clinics," Verduzco-Gutierrez said.
  • Not all doctors recognize the severity or unpredictable nature of the condition, 32-year-old long COVID patient Charlie McCone told CBS News. He said he's suffered debilitating symptoms, such as fatigue, for a year and a half and was originally denied disability.

"It's critical we start measuring this pandemic not just in hospitalizations and deaths, but in disability," McCone said. "Because it's going to have an enormous impact on the workforce and already is."

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