In many ways, the past two and a half years of life under the COVID-19 pandemic have felt like an eternity. From all the ways we’ve changed our daily lives to the risks we now face whenever we venture outside our doors, it can still feel like the virus is a presence we can’t seem to shake. But now, as many of the last health precautions are lifted and public life is beginning to normalize, there’s evidence that new threats from COVID are emerging—including one side effect that a new study says “is increasing” among those who contract the disease. Read on to see what has some experts concerned for the months to come in dealing with the virus.
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Case counts for COVID-19 have famously risen and fallen over time as the virus has changed to elude the defense provided by the highly effective vaccines and natural antibodies. The Omicron variant has been particularly difficult to deal with, as research shows new subvariants BA.4 or BA.5. are four times as resistant to antibodies from vaccines than the previously dominant BA.2, even while the shots still significantly help prevent severe illness and death, according to a study published in July in the journal Science.
For the moment, however, COVID infections in the U.S. are on a downward trend. The national daily average for new cases has dropped 27 percent over the past two weeks, to 59,602 as of Sept. 19, according to data from The New York Times. This represents a serious drop from the mid-summer high of 130,729 seen on July 12.
During an interview with CBS News’ 60 Minutes on Sept. 18, President Joe Biden made a significant declaration about the current state of the fight against the virus. “The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over,” he said. “If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, and so I think it’s changing, and I think [the Detroit auto show resuming after three years] is a perfect example of it.”
Many critics have pushed back on the President’s assessment that the virus is currently under control. And now, new research shows that the microscopic foe could present a new challenge.
A new study from researchers at the City University of New York (CUNY) posted on Sept. 6, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, conducted a survey of 3,042 adults in the U.S. between June 30 and July 2, 2022 about COVID-19 testing, outcomes, their symptoms, and their experiences with lingering symptoms after contracting the virus. Data collected found that as many as 21 percent of respondents reported suffering from long COVID starting four weeks after their initial infection, per The Daily Beast.
This number represents an increase from the 19 percent of patients who reported the lingering COVID side effect in June, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And researchers say the change points to the condition as a growing problem.
“Despite an increased level of protection against long COVID from vaccination, it may be that the total number of people with long COVID in the U.S. is increasing,” Denis Nash, PhD, an epidemiologist and lead author of the CUNY study, told The Daily Beast, clarifying that more people are reporting suffering from the prolonged side effects each day than are recovering from them.
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The novel coronavirus has proven to be a formidable foe in many ways, including how difficult it has been to fully understand the pathogen and its effects. Now, years into studying it, our knowledge of long COVID is only just starting to come into focus. According to the CDC, the condition causes “a wide range of symptoms that can last more than four weeks or even months after infection,” adding that “sometimes the symptoms can even go away or come back again.” These include everything from fatigue, fever, and general malaise to serious respiratory and heart problems, neurological symptoms such as “brain fog,” digestive issues, and other maladies.
Some who develop long-running symptoms say it drastically affects their life. “I’m desperate to get back to work, but I still can’t work at a desk or talk for more than 20 to 30 minutes without needing to rest for hours at a time,” Charlie McCone, a 32-year-old San Francisco resident who was first infected with COVID in March 2020, told Yahoo Finance. “I feel like people read things like that from long COVID patients and think it’s an exaggeration, but I wish it were.”
New research shows this is far from an isolated incident. A new report from the Brookings Institution said that as many as 4 million individuals with long COVID are missing work because of the condition.
“I really miss the simple things—going to the park, being able to breathe normally, chatting with friends, listening to music, having coffee,” McCone told Yahoo Finance. “Give me that back, and I would honestly be OK living my life half of what it used to be.”
Fortunately, recent weeks have seen a few positive developments in the fight against COVID, especially when it comes to severe outcomes. For example, cases of patients in the ICU with COVID in the U.S. are down to 3,704 from their January 2021 high of nearly 30,000, according to The Washington Post. And the seven-day national daily death average from the disease has dropped to 403 after surpassing 3,300 in January 2021.
Of course, more work must be done to decrease the drastic outcomes even further. But according to the CUNY study’s researchers, the medical community’s focus must also shift to include the growing problem at hand. “I believe it is long past time to be focusing on long COVID in addition to preventing hospitalizations and deaths,” Nash told The Daily Beast. “Exclusively focusing on these outcomes could arguably make the long COVID situation worse, since there is a substantial amount of long COVID among people that have only had mild or less severe SARS-CoV-2 infections.”