Research from the University of Michigan’s Center for Health and Research Transformation (CHRT) finds “long-COVID” is having a significant impact on the physical, mental, and financial health of Michiganders.
The study details who is at greater risk of long COVID, the disease’s effect on people’s physical and emotional well-being, and the financial impact of long COVID.
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According to the CDC, long COVID—also known as post-COVID—is when “people who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 experience long-term effects from their infection.” CHRT classified long COVID in people “who have had COVID symptoms continue for weeks or even months after initial infection,” said Jonathan Tsao, Research and Evaluation Project Manager at CHRT and one of the authors of the study.
Long COVID is a newly discovered phenomenon that can lead to continued breathing issues, loss of taste and smell, or lingering anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
“Long COVID is still all so new and it’s all new territory. We’re still learning and understanding what the effects of the virus are on physical health, mental health well-being, and financial and economic well-being,” said Melissa Riba, Research and Evaluation Director of CHRT.
The study’s data comes from CHRT’s Cover Michigan Survey, which is an annual health care consumer survey exploring health, health insurance, and health access trends in Michigan. The survey was fielded between Dec. 17th and Dec. 31st, 2021, and included a sample size 1,000.
According to the study, 1 in 3 Michiganders with COVID-19 are “long haulers” or someone experiencing long COVID.
Tsao said if you apply this data to Michigan COVID statistics now—not including COVID deaths—there have been a little over 2 million total cases, which would leave about 700,000 people who might have long COVID in the state.
“Depending on how many future cases of COVID exist, it likely could creep to a million or even exceed a million in the long term,” Tsao said.
The study also found that women are nearly 4 times as likely to report long COVID. According to the survey, 15% of men and 55% of women identified as long haulers. Tsao said this matches the national research on women affected with long COVID.
Riba thinks this correlates to the different sectors that were primarily affected by COVID like service industries and hospitality, which she said are more female dominated. This led more women to suffer from economic hardship and juggling to manage their children when childcare closed.
“There are a lot of those social nuances here as well,” Riba said.
Michiganders with diabetes were 2 times more likely to report long COVID. According to the study, individuals with diabetes are potentially at a greater risk due to the disease’s impairment of one’s immune system and damaging of organs.
Tsao said that diabetes is not the only chronic condition that puts people at greater risk for long COVID, but they could not be analyzed due to the constraints of the survey.
Financial hardships also greatly impact Michiganders who identify as long haulers, according to the report.
Because some long haulers are unable to function as they used to before COVID, they are more likely to take medical leave, work reduced hours, have their salaries reduced, or quit their jobs according to the report.
“The debilitating symptoms they suffer from like fatigue, brain fog, mental health concerns, et cetera, affect their productivity at work,” Tsao said.
In a national survey cited by the report, long haulers reported a 13% reduction of work hours and 55% reported that their workplace was not able to accommodate their situation. The report also said 70% reported applying for disability protections and benefits due to their debilitating symptoms.
Riba said this mainly affects those who have lower paying, hourly positions since they are not able to work from home or take any paid time off. Therefore, a person’s social determinants of health is a big indicator of a long hauler’s financial hardship.
“A lot of us have the privilege of being able to work from home and have that flexibility,” Riba said. “We are seeing the intersection of long COVID, income disparities, and gender disparities.”