About 10 percent of those who contracted COVID-19 continue to suffer persistent symptoms months later, creating the potential for millions of people to suffer functional impairment for extended lengths of time, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Council on Compensation Insurance.
The report, written by Paradigm Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Choo, says COVID long-haulers are anxious and irritable. They can’t sleep, break out in rashes, suffer blurry vision and chest pain, and are constantly thirsty. Researchers have identified 21 symptoms that have persisted as long as nine months after the initial infection.
“This is both sobering and alarming,” the report says.
As of Oct. 25, 45 million Americans had contracted COVID-19. Many of those cases became workers compensation claims, especially in the nine states that have created presumptions in favor of injured workers who claim they contracted the disease at the workplace.
NCCI is not the first organization to warn about the potential for COVID-19 to cause long-term health impacts. Dr. Claire Pomeroy, an infectious disease expert and president of the Lasker Foundation, wrote in a July article published by Scientific American that the nation should be prepared for a “tsunami of disability” caused by long-COVID.
Also in July, the Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance that informed employers that people struggling with long-haul COVID are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning employers may have to provide reasonable accommodations to allow them to continue working.
Choo’s report for NCCI, citing published studies, says that 81 percent of people who contracted COVID-19 suffered only mild symptoms or were asymptomatic, with only 5 percent suffering severe symptoms. Of the people who had severe symptoms, 76 percent had at least one symptom six months later, the most common being fatigue, muscle weakness and sleep difficulties.
Even more alarming, 10 percent of all people who contracted COVID-19 suffered symptoms more than three weeks later, according to another published study.
The National Institutes ascribed a new term for the syndrome: post-acute sequelae of severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2, or PASC. Researchers have identified several “symptom groups” that impact the cardiovascular system, pulmonary, endocrine and auto immune systems, as well as mood disorders and sleep disorders.
The report says PASC symptoms usually diminish in three to six months but sometimes last as long as nine months.
“The frustrating reality is that the constellation of symptoms experienced by those with PASC for extended periods of time can significantly delay their ability to return to work and/or their prior level of function and impair quality of life,” the report says.
Choo’s report is the first of two analyses that NCCI is planning to release on the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on workers compensation insurers. Spokeswoman Christine Pike said NCCI will report on trends in medical treatments and associated costs next spring or summer.
*This story ran previously in our sister publication Claims Journal.