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The ‘long-haul’ effect of COVID-19 on our communities and economy

Societal inequalities and national debt, issues that were serious pre-pandemic, were exacerbated by COVID-19

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In this April 18, 2020, file photo, people wait for a distribution of masks and food from the Rev. Al Sharpton in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. A new poll from the The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than white Americans to have experienced job and other income losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bebeto Matthews, Associated Press

One year ago, I became ill with COVID-19 and swiftly ended up in the hospital, struggling to breathe. Over the next weeks and months, many in Utah and around the country would share my fate. It was a scary time for me, my family, the health care providers who cared for me and those who followed me into Utah’s COVID-19 isolation units. 

Still, I feel blessed. Thanks to receiving excellent medical care, I went home after eight days, to continue my recovery. Today, I’m back to 100%, with no lingering ill effects. 

Others have not been so fortunate. More than 2,000 Utahns have died. Tens of thousands of people in the U.S. have lingering illness following COVID-19. They are known as post-COVID-19 “long-haulers.”

Studies show that 50% to 80% of patients continue to have bothersome symptoms three months after the onset of COVID-19, most commonly fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, and inability to exercise. According to the Harvard Health Letter, these long-haulers suffer from an inability to return to a pre-COVID-19 level of health and function even after six months and often show something similar to the chronic fatigue syndrome that is triggered by other infectious illnesses, such as mononucleosis or Lyme disease. These patients may not ever return to their normal routines and may continue to need medical care. 

Our country is also suffering from long-haul effects of the pandemic. First, while the vaccine rollout is helping our schools, businesses and our economy return to normal, health and economic losses have not hit all Americans equally. The CDC reports that long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. Further, a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that “compared with white Americans, Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to have experienced job losses” during the pandemic. Racial and economic injustices experienced by many Americans, a societal preexisting condition made worse by the pandemic, is a sickness we must overcome.

Second, the chronic condition of political divisiveness is on full display, whether it’s between school administrators, teachers and parents about a return to in-person learning, or how political differences predict who will or will not get vaccinated. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have heightened and hardened people’s polarized views and is a symptom of illness we cannot ignore.

Finally, the national debt has soared to a new record. With the passage of the American Rescue Plan, nonpartisan budget-watchers say the federal debt is projected to rise to 113% of GDP within a decade. The federal government will pay $300 billion this year alone on interest on the debt — or $2,400 per U.S. household.

Now that Congress has delivered on help for struggling families and businesses, it must start paying for priorities. Both parties share blame for our dangerous levels of deficit and debt. Both parties must work together to get our fiscal house in order to avoid mounting long-haul harm caused by their reckless fiscal policies.

There’s some anecdotal evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines, when given to long-haulers, make them feel better and studies may show whether that’s the case. When it comes to resolving the long-haul effects on our communities and our economy, it will take more than a booster shot to bring about a lasting recovery. Now is the time to start to heal in those areas as well, before the next crisis strikes.

Ben McAdams formerly represented Utah’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives