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