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Long COVID is a colloquial term for the condition whose scientific name is post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection, or PASC. It’s also sometimes referred to as long-haul COVID, long-term COVID or post-COVID conditions/syndrome.

Long COVID is an umbrella term that encompasses cases in which people experience symptoms related to COVID-19 long after the standard expected recovery period.

Research findings on the prevalence of long COVID vary greatly. Some estimate that fewer than 10% of those who had COVID are experiencing long-term symptoms, while others have found it to be as many as half of research participants. One study hypothesizes that up to 80% of COVID patients will experience at least one long-term, persistent symptom. Because the condition is still quite new, reliable longitudinal data is not yet available.

Theories regarding the causes of long COVID vary, with some speculating that it arises from immune activation and others projecting that it stems from damage caused by the virus or a low-level presence of the virus. Based on early studies, risk factors associated with developing long COVID include initial disease severity and other pre-existing comorbidities like advanced age, being female, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity and psychiatric disorders.

While most employees who contract COVID can return to work at full capacity within a week or two, those experiencing long-haul symptoms may have functional impairments that significantly affect productivity.

The extreme fatigue associated with long COVID can leave workers with little stamina to meet job demands. “Brain fog” can impede reaction time, memory and the ability to assimilate new information; performing simple tasks and finding the right words to communicate may become difficult.

In addition, previously healthy individuals carrying the mental burden of their long-haul symptoms – and suddenly having difficulty focusing, concentrating and thinking at work – may experience anxiety, stress, depression and even trauma as a result of not being able to perform as they once did. Further compounding these cognitive and emotional challenges is the fact that symptoms can come and go, so employees often can’t predict how they will feel or perform at any given time.

As with any significant health concern affecting the workforce, monitoring workers’ compensation, disability and leave of absence claim counts and durations is essential to grasping the scope of the organizational impact of long COVID. However, there are a few challenges worth noting with regard to tracking long COVID:

– – For now, there is no true diagnostic category for long COVID. (The ICD-10 code for post-COVID conditions is, as of the time of this publication, awaiting final approval.) Tracking COVID claims lasting at least a certain number of days may not yield completely accurate data on long COVID, as they will also include extended hospital stays and debilitating symptoms associated with the original bouts of COVID.
– – Because the symptoms of long COVID are sporadic and often differ from those that people experienced when first contracting the virus, the resulting health challenges are not always accurately identified as being associated with COVID.
– – Workers’ compensation data may not tell the whole story of long COVID. Even in U.S. states where COVID-19 diagnoses among certain categories of workers are presumed to be work-related and thus covered under WC, individuals with long-term complications have a new burden of proof to show that their lingering symptoms are directly associated with their original COVID claims. Extended durations between claim incidents can further complicate this burden of proof and the ability to demonstrate compensability.

For more information, download and read the full paper: Sedgwick: COVID-19: In it for the long haul.