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Diane Lincoln Estes
Diane Lincoln Estes
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Three years after the start of the pandemic, some 16 million Americans have long COVID, meaning their symptoms continue well after the initial infection. An estimated 4 million people say long COVID has significantly reduced their ability to carry out day-to-day activities. For many of them, that includes their jobs. Economics Correspondent Paul Solman has the story.
Three years after the start of the pandemic, some 16 million Americans have long COVID, meaning their symptoms continue well after the initial infection. An estimated four million people say long COVID has significantly reduced their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
For many of them, that includes their jobs.
Economics correspondent Paul Solman has our story, which was produced by Diane Lincoln Estes.
Carly Anna Hurst, Daughter of Meredith Hurst: COVID just make things harder.
Six-year-old Carly Anna (ph) Hurst remembers her mom before long COVID.
Carly Anna Hurst:
She, well, when on some walks with me.
And she can't do that now?
Is it sad?
Carly Anna's 22-year-old brother, Dan, says their mom is mostly out of action these days.
Dan, Son of Meredith Hurst: She tends to be bedridden a lot more.
At least a good bit of the day every day.
Meredith Hurst, Long COVID Patient:
My activity is sitting here talking to you. That's a lot for me.
Single mom Meredith Hurst was a paralegal in Wilmington, Delaware.
How was school today?
She hasn't been able to work in three years, doing this interview, a struggle.
I have to prepare in advance by resting days in advance. And then, getting ready today, I had to take breaks between, because I get shortness of breath while I was getting dressed.
I also get extremely exhausted getting dressed.
Now, I cover economics, not medicine, but long COVID, it turns out, may be a major factor and one of the most bedeviling trends in the economy these days, the lack of workers.
David Lazer, Northeastern University:
People who get long COVID are more likely to be subsequently unemployed.
So says Northeastern University's David Lazer.
It's a significant effect. They are 16 percent less likely to be employed.
Katie Bach, Brookings Institution:
We do have a big long COVID problem.
There are many others who, like Meredith Hurst, are no longer working, says researcher Katie Bach.
I would bet somewhere around 500,000. That would not include people who have reduced their hours. So I'm talking about just people who are out of the work force due to long COVID.
And the afflicted don't appear to be coming back anytime soon, due to a slew of symptoms.
I will get pain down my arm, elbows, hands, shortness of breath, tachycardia, extreme exhaustion.
Phillip Baczewski (Long COVID Patient):
The pain in my foot is awful.
Phillip Baczewski was a social worker for the state of Massachusetts.
I had been an adoption social worker. I had done social work for 25 years.
But COVID put him in the hospital back in March of 2020. And he's never been the same.
My stamina, ability to go up and down the stairs is a struggle. I have had to use a cane for years now.
Another symptom actually recurred during our interview with, brain fog.
I can't tell you how long we have been talking right now, but this is where it gets harder to focus.
Chimere Smith (Long COVID Patient):
I feel every nerve in my body now that I didn't used to feel before I had COVID and long COVID.
Chimere Smith was a teacher in Baltimore before she got sick.
My body is broken. On some days, I feel like a cracker that somebody can put in their hands and just crumble, because that is how my body feels.
Smith first discussed her condition the "NewsHour" two years ago.
It felt like a ghost or a monster had started to inhabit my body.
Now my memory has gotten progressively worse.
Interacting with, you seem as sharp as anybody I ever talk to.
Long COVID is a very sneaky, invisible condition that people don't recognize unless there are visible symptoms. And so, today, I feel OK. But when you leave here, and when this conversation ends, I will be on my couch for the next five to six hours, because this conversation itself is exhausting.
Post-exertional malaise, Meredith Hurst had it for a week after our interview, as her son documented.
Phillip Baczewski is heartbroken he can no longer do the adoption work he loves.
When you can match a child who really needs a family to a family, it feels wonderful to be able to say, all right, now you're going to move on as a family.
Baczewski asked for accommodations to return part-time.
They said I either come back full-time, work at full capacity of what I was doing before, or tender my resignation.
And that's what you had to do?
That's what I ultimately had to do.
When I tried to go back to work, I got physically sick.
Hurst tried to return to work twice.
The sore throat, the lymph nodes, the exhaustion, the fever, achiness. And that's what happens when I ever exert myself.
I loved my job. I will pat myself on the back to say I was an extraordinary teacher.
Chimere Smith's realization she could no longer teach really hurts.
You know, as a Black girl growing up in Southeast D.C., in the hood, in a poor community, people would tell me, because I was like the nerdy girl, you should teach. You should teach.
When I became a teacher, it was like the puzzle pieces of my life just started to fit together. That was my true calling.
But not anymore. And the financial toll is immense.
Eighty percent of my income is government-assistant based. So I receive Social Security. I am on Section 8.
Yes. And I receive food stamps from the government.
Simply applying for benefits has been hard for Hurst.
I did try to apply for Social Security disability on my own. And due to my disability, I was unable to complete the application.
How do you survive?
Sadly, I'm maxing out my credit cards. I have drained my 401(k) at this point. I am going to be applying again for Social Security disability, in hopes of having some income, and assistance from family.
And long COVID is taking its toll on the economy as well. Total estimate? In the hundreds of billions, says Bach.
It includes lost wages for people who are not working. It includes increased health care costs, and then there's lost quality of life, which is a concept in health economics where there is a cost to people suffering.
Suffering Phillip Baczewski knows only too well.
I have gone through times of, I haven't left my room for days, depression, thoughts of suicide, rage.
Chimere Smith has been there.
I wasn't teaching. I couldn't stand up. I could hardly move my body. I was nauseous all the time. I couldn't poop. I could hardly pee. I wanted to die.
This tree grows in the country.
Finally, there's the cost to others, like the kids of Meredith Hurst.
Hurst mourns the mother she once was.
And we would go to the mountains and take vacations and things like that. And I'm not able to do that anymore.
They're memories now, the memories of a life I used to live that I'm not able to anymore.
Memories her daughter shares.
We also used to do a bunch of picnics.
Painful even for the reporter…
This apple tree.
… and perhaps you too.
For the "PBS NewsHour," Paul Solman.
Watch the Full Episode
Paul Solman has been a business, economics and occasional art correspondent for the PBS NewsHour since 1985.
Diane Lincoln Estes is a producer at PBS NewsHour, where she works on economics stories for Making Sen$e.
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