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1 in 4 COVID patients in it for long haul. That’s worrying North Bay employers

<strong id="strong-b21031f6a9be5e7eff4bded495557d17">Long haul symptoms</strong>

Brain fog

Fatigue

Headaches

Dizziness

Shortness of breath

Chest pain

Coughing

Joint pain

Memory loss

Muscle aches

Pounding heart

Depression

Anxiety

Fever

Loss of smell or taste

Source: Mayo Clinic

Calvin Sandeen got COVID-19 and is still living with it.

The Forestville resident wonders when he gets the common cold now whether the muscle aches that go with it will turn into joint pain from the virus. He wonders whether a slight headache will turn into a migraine, his most common symptom after contracting COVID-19.

Vaccinated and athletic, the Sonoma County Economic Development broadband analyst is considered a “long hauler,” someone who continues to suffer the effects of the virus after the initial infection. Health experts say these long haulers endure symptoms for an average of four to six months after contracting COVID-19.

To this day, Sandeen still gets occasional migraines and other symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue when he “is stressed” or his immune system is down. He got migraines from a jaw-related problem when he was younger.

“I had migraines before COVID from (temporomandibular joints) complications, which I corrected, and didn’t get them anymore. Now, after COVID, I get them once in a while,” he said.

The research is still young, but the lasting impacts of long-haul syndrome on the American workforce represents somewhat of a perplexing mystery that needs solving to keep the population as well as the economy humming and healthy — especially with a raging variant ripping through the nation.

After doing some yard work one weekend in July, Sandeen woke up feeling achy with a migraine and just thought he was having a reaction to pollen and other allergens. The next day, a copper smell ensued. The following day, he lost his sense of taste. That was when he suspected something was wrong. After a week following a trip to the gym — a routine activity the Sonoma County resident would do at least twice a week — the symptoms dwindled. But a COVID-19 test also came back positive.

“I don’t know what’s going on long term. It’s probably the most scary that I don’t know if I’m going to have long-term effects,” he said. “The time I got it, it sucked, but I thought I can get through it. But what does that mean?”

In some respects, Sandeen believes he’s better off than many others who have been infected. His sister-in-law’s father died from it. Plus, other family members were hospitalized, reducing them to lying on their stomachs for days.

“I definitely don’t want that,” he said. “It’s a little scary that it can get close to home. I think everyone is going to be in for long-haul effects with it.”

The psychological impacts can be as great as the physical toll.

“You really don’t know how you’ll feel until you get it,” he said.

He understands why people trying to work through the pandemic feel more stressed out, especially those who are trying to be on the job every day. Although he’s only missed a few weeks of work because of the experience, Sandeen is grateful he gets the support he needs from work. At age 28, it’s too early to retire.

“It affects your job. Everybody’s feeling the stress. Because of all this, it makes people wonder what else is out there. I love my job. I love serving the community,” Sandeen said, adding he used his job “as a distraction” from his personal health problems.

But he knows everyone treats this type of life-altering challenge differently.

“Seeing the pandemic come through makes people think about life in general, like ‘if I’m on the right path,’” he said, referring to career choices. “It’s definitely a battle for a lot of people.”

Living and working with lingering effects

Studies over the last year from the American Medical Association to UC Davis have indicated that at least 1 in 4 people infected with COVID-19 will develop long-haul symptoms. But the University of Oxford and National Institutes of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported their findings are closer to 1 in 3 people a month after infection.

And the CDC found that a disproportionate number of women and Blacks are getting hit with the lasting effects.

Many symptoms are neurological. A recent report on NIH research released last month found that the pathogen has the ability to invade almost every organ system in the body.

Research conducted by the AMA in November has shown that half of those infected — 19% of which were vaccinated — has experienced at least one long-haul symptom six months after the initial diagnosis. Moreover, abnormal chest images have shown up in more than 250,000 COVID-19 survivors.

The most common symptom is the difficulty to concentrate. That’s not a good scenario for the American labor market, struggling to get back to normal and already under pressure to fill much-needed positions.

With the ability to focus representing a large part of most people’s life on the job, it’s no wonder that a University of Southampton survey asking input from 3,700 patients from 56 countries has discovered 75% of those with long-haul syndrome saying it’s affected their work. And 60% claimed they had to take time off because of the long-haul symptoms.

“COVID is of great concern to us in the labor movement. It’s happening, and it’s going to wreak havoc on the workforce,” California Labor Federation spokesman Steve Smith told the Business Journal.

The lack of a greater social safety net for these workers struggling with a debilitating illness that may last for months accentuates the problem, he added.

“We need to recognize the need for us to catch up to other countries,” he said, referring to the prevalence of social programs. Otherwise, he noted, workers may be facing the cliff, or worse yet, “the rocks” at the bottom of the cliff.

The Federation plans to this week propose an addition to the state legislative budget process that would extend the two weeks of paid sick leave for those suffering from or caring for a loved one of COVID-19. The former law expired last July. If the concession is approved as a trailer to the budget, the extension of benefits would be retroactive to Oct. 1.

Aside from California, the United States is facing a reckoning of companies taking care of its workforce through access to affordable health insurance, better support services and a seat at the corporate decision-making table, Smith explained.

“These are issues that we have needed to be addressed for decades. With chronic illness, this is going to have acute impacts on business. We have a ways to go. If the virus mutates again, we can’t just rely on the vaccines to protect us,” he said. “The silver lining in all this is (finding) a leverage for workers that could lead to a balancing of the scales.”

Some employers see the train approaching and are trying to be proactive.

“We’ve been holding meetings wondering how this is going to play out. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a one size fits all,” said Renteria Vineyard Management Chief Financial Officer Blanca Wright, who also serves as the California Farm Labor Contractor Association past president. “The one thing we wonder: ‘Are we going to have enough labor?’”

Wright said the pandemic has prompted her Napa company to add on workers in the human resources department, increasing from 1.5 positions to five full-time slots. Renteria just had one crew that carpooled and lived together contract the virus in 2020, but the company has not reported any other workers affected. Still, Wright harbors concerns that more may get the virus down the road.

“My heart hurts for them. One thing — we need as much mental health (services) as possible. People are not doing well,” she said.

These HR professionals will need to be quite versed at knowing how to legally “accommodate” these employees going through the challenging experience, Spaulding, McCullough & Tansil Attorney Lisa Ann Hilario insisted.

The Santa Rosa employment law specialist cited the California Fair Employment & Housing Act as the foundation that requires companies make reasonable accommodations for a sick worker by either supporting them on the job or giving them the necessary time off when working becomes prohibitive.

As of last July, COVID-19 was listed as a potential disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

The concern is “definitely” elevated by the growing prevalence of COVID-19 cases, especially with an explosively surging number of cases being reported from the latest omicron variant.

“The difference here is, we’re expecting huge numbers. Employers should be prepared for this because they’ll be required to accommodate these employees,” Hilario told the Business Journal. “From a business perspective, they need to know: How severe are the symptoms? How do they affect work? And how long they will last?”

The relevant documentation to certify such an accommodation request will come from the worker’s doctor.

“It’s the employers’ duty to provide reasonable accommodation to employees for their mental and physical difficulties that keep them from their ability to do the job,” she said.

In December 2020, the U.S. Congress appropriated $1.15 billion to support research pertaining to the prolonged health consequences of the pandemic, the NIH reported last February.

Learning more about COVID-19 on the job

Dr. Christian Sandrock, an infectious disease and critical care expert at UC Davis, told the Business Journal it’s unknown whether one variant poses more long-haul symptoms than another. Nonetheless, the consequences of any variant may present major challenges to keep people on the job.

“From a work perspective, companies are going to have to deal with accommodating workers, and it could affect all kinds of workers,” he said, citing a range from office types to those performing physical tasks.

The doctor noted he’s even seeing cases of sleeplessness and other neurological ailments among long haulers, not excluding his own profession. These symptoms should not be discounted, even if they sound less severe, Sandrock insisted.

“In health care, some employees who experience long haul are dealing with the physical manifestation of brain fog,” he said. “Health care employees can’t work with that.”

Keeping health care workers going should be Job 1, according to community stakeholders.

“It’s still early to tell, but my hunch is it seems logical to assume there will be some long-haul impacts, with some burden on our health care system,” Sonoma State University economics professor Robert Eyler said.

What happens next with a beleaguered workforce remains the next question.

“As we move from a pandemic to an endemic, this is a huge question when we have millions more disabled people. We’re going to need to increase medical care, and they’ll need support,” North Bay Leadership Council CEO Cynthia Murray said.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, biotech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 25 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, now a part of the Union Tribune in San Diego County, along with the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. She graduated from Fullerton College. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or susan.wood@busjrnl.com

<strong id="strong-b21031f6a9be5e7eff4bded495557d17">Long haul symptoms</strong>

Brain fog

Fatigue

Headaches

Dizziness

Shortness of breath

Chest pain

Coughing

Joint pain

Memory loss

Muscle aches

Pounding heart

Depression

Anxiety

Fever

Loss of smell or taste

Source: Mayo Clinic

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