Long COVID is a health and economic concern

There is timely attention on ‘exit ramps’ as COVID-19 cases dwindle and a weary public yearns for pandemic exits two years into the crisis.

But as the transition to a new normal gathers pace, it is vitally important to recognize this reality and prepare for it: the road ahead is far from easy for a significant number of survivors. to this viral disease but who still suffer from serious sequelae.

Solutions and the political collaboration to implement them are essential at the state and federal levels. In Minnesota, legislative action is imperative to help those affected and understand the potential impacts on the state’s workforce and economy. It is essential to start this session well in the face of this multifaceted challenge.

Long COVID is the working name given to the little-understood constellation of persistent symptoms after infection. This includes life-altering fatigue, breathing difficulties, cognitive impairment, heart problems, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression.

Imagine working or trying to take care of a family – or both – while feeling so far out of sync. Now consider the recent testimony of a Mayo Clinic physician before a Minnesota legislative committee.

A “conservative estimate” is that about 10% of those infected will suffer from long COVID symptoms, according to Dr Greg Vanichkachorn, an occupational medicine specialist from Mayo who studies the long-term health effects of COVID. vanichkachorn testified earlier this month before Minnesota House’s Finance and Health Policy Committee.

The doctor’s calculations show the extent of the problem. When he addressed lawmakers, 74.3 million cases of COVID had been reported in the United States. This translates to 7.4 million long-distance cases nationwide. Of that subgroup, Vanichkachorn said about 2.2 million people will not be able to return to work.

That’s a lot of people who will need ongoing care. Currently, there are a limited number of medical centers in Minnesota and elsewhere offering extended COVID programs. Waiting lists are common and patients can take several months to enter.

The number of those who are too sick to work is also sobering. It sheds light on a potential cause of the current labor shortages and suggests it may be an ongoing problem.

Long COVID “is not only a challenge for health care, but also a challenge for our society and our economy,” Vanichkachorn said.

Since COVID has long been an emerging disease, statistics remain elusive on how many people in Minnesota have been diagnosed with it. “Tracking Long COVID continues to be challenging as there is no agreed case definition yet,” said Kate Murray, MDH Program Manager for Long COVID. “There was no official diagnosis code for providers before July 2021, and it is still not used consistently.”

One of the first obvious remedies is to close this surprising gap in incidence and prevalence. But much more is needed. Gov. Tim Walz’s push for related funding is a laudable first step. Waltz supplementary budget recommends “an investment to understand the impact of long COVID in Minnesota” and is requesting $2.7 million for the current biennium and $7.4 million in 2024-25.

Goals include raising awareness about long COVID and developing “tools and resources” for patients, their families and their healthcare providers. The measures would also include statewide guidance for diagnosis, treatment and care. We would add one area to focus on: the long potential of COVID to have thousands of new Minnesotans in need of services provided by public disability programs.

State investment is needed, especially as Congress is making little progress on legislation to bolster the country’s long COVID response.

“We currently have CDC funding through June 2023 to begin tracking COVID long-term, but nothing long-term. We need to track COVID-19 long-term, and the budget proposal includes funds for the done in partnership with stakeholders,” MDH’s Murray said in an email.

She continued, “Minnesota is currently the only state that is proactively and deliberately trying to establish a lengthy COVID public health program at this time.”

Vanichkachorn’s legislative testimony caught the attention of Minnesota House members. A similar long COVID spotlight is needed in the State Senate. The Star Tribune editorial board urges Senator Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, to bring this doctor Mayo or other longtime COVID experts to testify before members of this chamber. Utke is the new president of the Health and social services finance and policy Committee.

Compassionate and energetic collaboration on the long COVID is needed and would reflect well on Utke as he steps into this important health leadership role.

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