Most Americans have demonstrated that they are able and willing to live with the presence of COVID-19. Precautions are largely ignored as we go about our daily lives, understanding that the coronavirus is going to be a lingering factor in social interactions — similar to, but more deadly than, influenza.
But new data from the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrates the need for robust action to keep the virus in check and limit its spread as much as possible. A Household Pulse Survey provides some insight to the prevalence of long COVID — symptoms that remain for months or perhaps years.
In Washington, 31 percent of those who have contracted COVID report lingering symptoms. That is lower than the national average of 34 percent, which likely is due to our high rate of vaccinations that typically suppress the most severe impacts of the virus.
“While some cases of long COVID involve a single symptom that doesn’t markedly diminish quality of life (such as a cough or mild taste disturbance), others involve disabling symptoms such as profound fatigue, severe brain fog or intense shortness of breath,” Robert M. Wachter of the University of California San Francisco writes for The Washington Post. “In addition to symptoms that last for several months or more, there’s also a risk of other long-term complications that are set in motion by the original case of COVID-19.”
Wachter notes that people who have had COVID have an increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and blood clots. “There is evidence, too, of brain shrinkage,” he writes, “although the implications of this are not yet clear.”
All of this is still being figured out by researchers; the impact of a previously unknown disease will take years to assess. But the presence of long COVID highlights the need for continued research, funding and public information campaigns. While a trip to the grocery store or a concert or a sporting contest reveals that many Americans are willing to eschew precautions and take their chances with COVID, the virus continues to pose a risk.
For months, Congress has been debating a $22.5 billion request from President Joe Biden to bolster the nation’s supply of coronavirus tests, vaccines and treatments. House Democrats say the next move is up to the Senate, while Senate Democrats say the House must take the lead.
With the proposal at a standstill, the administration plans to repurpose $10 billion from other aid packages toward the purchase of vaccines and treatments, with about half the funding going to antiviral therapies. “Our fight for COVID funding is active and regular and robust,” a White House spokeswoman said. “COVID, as we all know, is not over, and we risk even more severe and lethal consequences for American people if we do not secure this funding — even if members of Congress may think otherwise.”
In Washington, more than 1.6 million COVID cases have been confirmed since the outbreak of the virus in 2020; that number likely is severely underreported, with many people who have symptoms now foregoing tests or using home-testing kits and waiting out the disease in isolation. More than 13,000 deaths in our state have been attributed to coronavirus.
Those deaths are tragic, but the impact of COVID goes beyond mortality rates; even for those who survive, the virus can have a long-lasting impact. That serves as a reminder of the need for precautions and for robust congressional action to protect public health, despite our willingness to live with the risks.