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People dealing with long COVID-19 symptoms could be impacting US economy

Covid Lungs
Posted at 7:32 AM, Sep 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 10:32:12-04

(WXYZ) — Over the weekend, President Joe Biden said the COVID-19 pandemic is over, and the World Health Organization said it may be coming to a close.

Cases are down in the U.S. and across the world, but the pandemic is not over for people who are suffering from long-COVID. The physical symptoms can last years, and the economic impact can also be life-changing.

Jeff Whitmer has been battling long-COVID. It has affected his family life and his work life. He was working, but he said he had to take breaks throughout the day.

"I still have the severe headaches, body aches, the brain fog. So, it's kind of a combination," he said. "Minor things make it where I'm beyond exhaustive. And that was never me before."

Whitmer is one of millions of American workers battling long-COVID. Despite his symptoms, Whitmer was working. But, a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research says roughly half a million workers have permanently disappeared from the U.S. workforce. The study says most patients suffering lasting effects of COVID-19 symptoms transitioned from illness directly into retirement.

"You've seen a disproportionate impact of it among older people. So, there I think you see the bigger impact of long-COVID," Michael Greiner, an assistant professor at the Oakland University School of Business Administration said.

According to Greiner, some mature workers with long-COVID decided it wasn't worth it to return to work, and those who did might have cut their hours.

The Minneapolis Fed says more than a quarter of people with long COVID have had their work "impacted". So, they have dropped out of the workforce or reduced work hours. That can slow economic growth nationwide.

"If you have fewer people in the workforce, you're going to have less economic growth. And I think we've actually seen that impact when you look at the GDP figures over the last couple of quarters, which actually have been shrinking," Greiner said.

According to the CDC, 40% of adults have had COVID-19 and one in five have continued symptoms.

"That's 8% of the adult population of the United States. That's a tremendous number," Beaumont infectious diseases Dr. Matthew Sims said.

According to Sims, the unvaccinated and those who have severe COVID-19 are at greater risk of long hauler syndrome. There is no cure. Some recover in weeks to months, while others take months to years.

"For some people, it may be forever," Sims said.

Sims says people trying to recover from long COVID may see pulmonologists, while others will get physical or occupational therapy.

The goal is to help to return to the highest level of function possible. That may also require treatment for depression or anxiety that comes along with suffering from long COVID.

Addressing all of these issues is crucial in getting folks off the sidelines and back into the workforce.

This article was written by Keenan Smith for WXYZ.