Long Covid: A long and lonely road GETTY
This summer appears more relaxed and free than ever. All US mask mandates have lifted, restaurants and businesses have opened their doors, and flights have removed requirements for Covid testing. But behind the veil of normalcy is Long Covid, a post Covid condition with varying long-term symptoms. Using new data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), this article will highlight the prevalence of Long Covid and emphasize the importance of mitigating your risk.
How Common is Long Covid?
It’s hard to say exactly how common Long Covid is. Early statistics suggest 10 to 30% of COVID survivors develop Long Covid, but how does this translate to the wider US population?
Recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) helps paint a clearer picture.
The NCHS collaborated with the US Census Bureau, which has been collecting information on COVID-19 through 20 minute online surveys since April 2020. These surveys are sent to American households to understand the pandemic’s effects on physical and mental wellness, employment status, education disruptions and more. The most recent iteration included questions on post-covid symptoms which lasted three months or longer.
62,000 adults responded to this Household Pulse Survey. According to the results,19% of Covid survivors are currently experiencing Long Covid symptoms. At almost one in five adults, the survey provides a much larger estimate than the 10% initially believed.
The NCHS data also illustrates how expansive Long Covid’s effects are. An estimated 7.5% of all US adults, around 20 million people, currently have Long Covid symptoms. This is compared to the 14% of US adults who report having Long Covid symptoms at one point in the pandemic. So while symptoms resolve for some, millions of people continue to feel effects post Covid infection.
There’s a chance these data are conservative. The survey reported less adults having Covid than seroprevalence estimates, suggesting there’s a pool of people who have Covid that have yet to be accounted for. Children were also excluded from the count. At present, this study provides the most accurate and detailed estimates of Long Covid’s burden in the US. The NCHS will release more Long Covid survey results on July 20 and August 17th.
How to Stay Safe
Relaxing restrictions fail to accommodate the risk of developing Long Covid. The Household Pulse Survey shows how millions of people have and had Long Covid symptoms. These numbers will only continue to grow if proper precautions are not taken. Considering that the condition can be caused by asymptomatic, mild and severe SARS-CoV-2 infection, and that vaccination only reduces the risk of getting Long Covid by 15%, the best way to prevent Long Covid is to avoid contracting Covid.
I have often invoked the weather analogy as a guide to reducing your risk of contracting Covid. Just as one checks the weather to prepare for the week, you, too, should check your local COVID-19 cases to see what protective measures to take. A Covid “weather” app has yet to be finalized. Until then, the best tool to monitor local Covid risk is the CDC’s community level surveillance of COVID-19.
A green zip code equates to a light rain. You have relatively low risk in your county, and would likely be fine with minimal protections. Continue to stay up-to-date with your vaccines and boosters, and maintain improved ventilation indoors if possible.
A yellow forecast spells medium risk. Well-equip yourself for COVID-19 as one would for steady rainfall. In addition to the previous measures, I recommend mask wearing in crowded areas. Immunocompromised individuals or those at high risk for disease should take precautions by having a plan for rapid testing; ask your primary care physician if you qualify for treatments like oral antivirals and monoclonal antibodies should you contract Covid.
If your community is red, spare no measures, as this emulates dangerous rainfall. Limit non-essential indoor gatherings if possible. It’s best to wear a mask in public in these cases, even if others are vaccinated; it is still possible to catch Covid if you are vaccinated. If you do suspect you have Covid at any point, test promptly, isolate appropriately, and wear a mask to protect others.
A generally blasé attitude towards COVID-19 infection may stir trouble. Although many have resigned to contracting the virus months back into the pandemic, the public eye should not discount the real threat of Long Covid. Given its prevalence and its difficulty to treat, the best method to avoid Long Covid is to prevent getting COVID-19 to begin with. More information on Long Covid can be read in my book, A Family Guide to Long Covid.