long hauler

‘Mass Disabling Event'? Four Million Americans out of Work With Long-Haul COVID, Research Shows

About 2.4 percent of the US working population has long COVID, according to a researcher with the Brookings Institution

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According to research conducted by the Brookings Institution, data shows that at least 4 million full-time employees are out of work because of long COVID, about 2.4 percent of the U.S. working population.

"Katie Bach, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, drew on survey data from the Census Bureau, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and the Lancet to come up with what she says is a conservative estimate" of 4 million people, NPR reported.

In fact, the Biden administration has already taken some steps to try to protect workers and keep them working, and has provided guidelines that said that long COVID can be a disability.

Dr. Lucy Horton, who is a board-certified infectious-disease specialist with UC San Diego Health, said the number of people out of work due to long COVID is high and that she isn't surprised by the data. 

"We know that a huge population is unable to work or return to school or caregiving activities because of the effects of long COVID, said Horton.

Lily and her positive COVID test

One of those suffering from the illness is Lily Avetyan, 46, a former champion female boxer. 

At one time, Avetyan said, she was second in the nation in multiple weight classes. But these days, "I can't box, I can barely walk a block." The problem: long-haul COVID symptoms.

Until she contracted the coronavirus, Avetyan, a Clairemont resident, worked for 21 years as a consultant, but since getting COVID, she cannot work; in fact, taking care of her young daughter is also a challenge.

"I couldn’t even work two hours in front of a laptop," Avetyan said. "I couldn’t even do 20 minutes. It was crazy how quickly the symptoms would come back. I tried."

Avetyan tested positive for COVID in January 2021. Now, her eyes twitch at random times, she’s often exhausted, nauseous and has brain fog. These are just some of the reported symptoms of long COVID. She wanted to return to work, but her job requires her to be on phone calls and in front of a computer screen for hours, which she can no longer do.

Lily and her daughter

"I explained to them I would love to come back," Avetyan said about her former employer. "I don’t want to feel disabled, but I couldn’t. Number one: My memory is gone. Number two: I couldn’t look at a screen long enough. So they basically said, 'Sorry, if you can’t work, we are going to have to let you go.' "

Horton, the UC San Diego Health physician, said that with long COVID, symptoms come and go, and new symptoms come up. Horton said long COVID is difficult for some clinicians to diagnose.

"This could be considered a mass disabling event for our society," Horton said. "When you have a large number of people that are unable to return to work, this can affect the economy."

The Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment was unable to provide figures on how many people were affected in San Diego. UC San Diego Health has a post COVID care clinic and ongoing research programs.

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