An estimated 2 million to 4 million U.S. adults are out of work due to “long COVID,” according to a Brookings Institution study that looks at the impact of the condition that afflicts some persons even after they clear their infections.
The report says about 16 million Americans aged 18 to 65 likely suffer from some form of long COVID-19, in which symptoms last for weeks or months. The condition affects roughly 2.5% of COVID-19 patients and can include things such as brain fog, fatigue, headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Brookings estimates the annual cost of lost wages due to long COVID is about $170 billion a year and may be as high as $230 billion.
“These impacts stand to worsen over time if the U.S. does not take the necessary policy actions,” said the institution, which based its analysis on data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (HPS).
A study by the Minneapolis Fed found that a quarter of people who report having long COVID have seen their work affected, either through loss of a job or reduced hours.
The midpoint of Brookings’s estimate of workers knocked out of the labor force by long COVID — 3 million — is about 1.8% of the civilian labor force.
“This may sound unbelievably high, but it is not inconsistent with the experiences of comparable economies,” the analysis, released Wednesday, said.
Brookings pointed to a Bank of England representative who said labor force participation in Britain has dropped by about 1.3% across the entire 16-to-64-year-old population. It was driven by long-term illness, which the bank tied to COVID-19.
Brookings analysts proposed five policy interventions to combat the problem: The development of better treatments for long COVID and nasal vaccines that can prevent infection in the first place; enhanced sick leave for all workers, so they do not show up with the virus and spread it; better employer accommodations for long COVID sufferers, where possible; wider access to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits so long COVID patients can focus on improving their health; and better data collection, so policymakers can understand the nature and breadth of the problem.
Congress recently dedicated more than $1 billion to NIH’s research into long COVID. NIH scientists say the problem might be due to prolonged inflammation in parts of the body after the acute infection is gone.
Prolonged inflammation from the coronavirus caused permanent damage to lungs and kidneys, affected the brain, and was linked to behavioral changes in hamsters in an NIH-funded study by Drs. Benjamin tenOever at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Venetia Zachariou at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, in March said he suffered from mild symptoms, including a tingling sensation in his nerves, two years after his coronavirus infection in spring 2020.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.