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Long COVID could be considered a disability. Here’s why

The Biden administration said some COVID-19 long-haulers may need Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations to live with the lasting effects

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Members of the Utah National Guard work at a COVID-19 testing center

Members of the Utah National Guard work at a COVID-19 testing center at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 19, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

American survivors of COVID-19 who have long-lasting symptoms of the virus may qualify for federal disability accommodations, the White House announced this week.

Long COVID sufferers, or those dealing from effects of the coronavirus after their bodies defeat the actual virus, could be eligible for Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations, President Joe Biden said Monday, according to Politico.

Biden’s announcement was part of a Rose Garden speech marking the 31st anniversary of former President George H.W. Bush’s 1990 signing of the ADA.

  • “We’re bringing agencies together to make sure Americans with long COVID who have a disability have access to the rights and resources that are due under the disability law,” Biden said, according to Politico.  
  • The president said this measure is necessary to make sure coronavirus long-haulers who have lasting symptoms — which meet the disability level — have accommodations at work, in schools and in health care, reported Politico.

The White House announcement came alongside new guidance from the civil rights offices, the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Justice that long COVID would be covered under the ADA.

  • Long COVID could be considered a disability if the lasting effects of the virus “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” the agencies wrote in their new guidance.
  • But not all long COVID cases would be considered a disability, they added, and “an individualized assessment is necessary to determine whether a person’s long COVID condition or any of its symptoms substantially limits a major life activity.”

What are the symptoms of coronavirus long-haulers?

Long-haulers struggling with the aftereffects of the deadly coronavirus can have an array of symptoms, which includes physical to psychological issues.

According to the Justice Department and HHS, these conditions can include lung, heart and kidney damage, as well as lasting emotional and mental health effects.

  • “Although many people with COVID-19 get better within weeks, some people continue to experience symptoms that can last months after first being infected, or may have new or recurring symptoms at a later time,” they wrote in the guidance.

Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare pulmonary medicine and critical care physician Dr. Dixie Harris told the Deseret News in April that she had, at that time, treated upwards of 100 coronavirus patients with shortness of breath and tightness in their chests. Of those patients, only a few needed hospitalization for COVID-19 complications, but many were on oxygen for months, the doctor said.

  • “Fatigue is the most common of the many symptoms associated with long-haulers, a lengthy list that includes a loss of taste or smell, body aches, joint pain, headaches, difficulty sleeping and brain fog,” the Deseret News reported.
  • Harris believes “most experts think that this virus is going to be with us in some form for a while, for years. As long as this virus is in the community, there are going to be people who may not get super sick but who may have symptoms that linger,” reported the Deseret News.