For some, COVID-19 and the symptoms that came with it simply have not gone away.
“COVID was like nothing I've ever seen. Nothing like my elders, my colleagues have ever seen before. And it's hopefully something we’ll never see again,” Dr. James Hunt, a pulmonary critical care and neuro critical care doctor at the Medical Center of Aurora said. “Now over the last year, I would really say we really started to see what we call long COVID.”
Symptoms people with long COVID can experience range widely.
“The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, a cough, or sometimes fatigue, and lastly what everybody’s been calling sort of a brain fog,” Dr. Hunt said.
Long COVID impacts millions. One study from the Penn State College of Medicine published in October 2021 found more than half of the 236 million people diagnosed with COVID-19 will experience post-COVID symptoms – or long COVID – up to six months after recovering.
“For many cases, a tincture of time is really going to be helpful. That your body will slowly heal itself,” Dr. Hunt said.
For Olivia Loucks, that was not the case.
“I got it back in March of 2021 and it was the most horrible experience of my life,” she said.
“A couple months later, I just started having chunks of hair fall out,” Loucks said. “Then I started becoming pre diabetic.”
Loucks developed health problems like POTS and PCOS since, impacting her ability to live her life.
“I feel sad in my heart that I can’t be the mom that I need to be for my 4 year old. I’d love to be able to take her to the park or have fun or have energy to be able to do things with her and my husband as well but there are just so many days where it's unknown,” she explained.
A new bill in the Senate could help people like Loucks get answers. In March, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine introduced the CARE for Long COVID Act. The act would accelerate research in the area and provide more education and access to services for those dealing with it.
Doctor William Checkley, an ICU physician and researcher with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said there is still a lot of research to be done.
“I think this type of funding is critical. Not only as an investment in research, but also long COVID is now considered a disability and we need to have a better understanding of the long term consequences and physical symptoms and psychological and cognitive issues,” Dr. Checkley said.
As research advances and many questions remain unanswered, Loucks is trying to help others like her using social media apps like TikTok. “I do it for free, like I've reached out to people on messages and stuff like that just to help them through this,” she said.
“If you do have a symptom you should see your provider about it because some of these can be important issues that we can help you out with,” Dr. Hunt said.