Long COVID-19 is keeping between 2 million and 4 million Americans out of work, resulting in about $170 billion in lost wages annually, according to a new report.
The report from the Brookings Institution estimates that 16 million “working-age” Americans between the ages of 18-65 currently have long COVID.
“If long COVID patients don’t begin recovering at greater rates, the economic burden will continue to rise,” the report said.
The estimate for lost wages “does not represent the full economic burden of long COVID, because it does not include impacts such as the lower productivity of people working while ill, the significant health care costs patients incur or the lost productivity of caretakers,” according to the report.
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With 10.7 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. as of June, the report’s high-end estimate would mean that long COVID is potentially responsible for over a third of the labor shortage.
COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are hovering at an average of about 90,000 new infections per day – a number that is certainly an underestimate due to the use of at-home tests. With so many infections and reinfections, the number of people who suffer from long COVID shows no signs of slowing, and experts say the resources to handle the tens of millions of Americans with long COVID are insufficient.
“These impacts stand to worsen over time if the U.S. does not take the necessary policy actions,” the report said.
The report identifies five government interventions to “mitigate both the economic costs and household financial impact of long COVID:” better prevention and treatment options, expanded paid sick leave, improved workplace accommodations, wider access to disability insurance and enhanced data collection on long COVID’s economic effects.
Long COVID is a “wide range of new, returning or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Estimates of the prevalence of long COVID vary, but the high numbers signal that the condition will continue to be a challenge for public health policy and the economy.
Federal government estimates found that nearly 1 in 5 adults who have had COVID-19 in the past were still experiencing at least one symptom of long COVID – fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, chest pain and headaches among others – as of mid-June. The number jumps to more than 1 in 3 when considering adults who have experienced the condition at any point in the pandemic after COVID-19 infection.
A separate study recently found that about 1 in 8 adults who get infected with the coronavirus will develop symptoms of long COVID-19, though it didn’t include some symptoms – like brain fog – that have since been associated with long COVID.