The window to the long covid mortality, while comprising less than 1 percent of covid-19 deaths, is the latest evidence of the continuing threat that the complex and difficult-to-diagnose condition poses to the health of Americans and the world. even as Biden administration officials say, covid-19 will continue to circulate for years to come.
It also raises important questions about who can access care for a condition that affects an estimated 23 million Americans.
A death can only be attributed to prolonged Covid if a patient is diagnosed as having it. And although a recent CDC National Center for Health Statistics The survey found that nearly one in five American adults who say they’ve had Covid-19 also have long-term Covid symptoms remains prohibitively difficult for patients to get treatment for the condition, doctors say, due to low levels of awareness. between doctors and patients. the lack of funding for specialized clinics and the slow process of being diagnosed and treated for a condition that has dozens of symptoms.
The constellation of long Covid clinics that have sprung up across the country continue to have months-long waiting lists for new patients. The relatively few patients receiving treatment are overwhelmingly white and wealthy enough to be able to take time off work to keep multiple appointments and spend time online seeking care and support groups, doctors say.
“This is the same movie that we have seen over and over again,” said Christian Ramers, a doctor who has long treated Covid patients at the San Diego Family Health Centers. He says that during the pandemic, the various innovations that have sprung up to combat covid-19 — tests, vaccines, treatments, and long covid clinics — have always been accessible first, mostly to people who have the resources to seek them out.
“My patients have to work to pay their bills,” said Ramers, who predominantly treats low-income people of color. “They don’t have time to sit on the phone.”
In many other cases, patients seeking treatment are told that what they are experiencing after their Covid-19 infection is not a problem. “A lot of patients are told they’re just anxious,” said Alba Azola, co-director of the Johns Hopkins post-acute COVID-19 team, referring to the Latino patient community with whom she often works. Weather some research shows that mental health affects the way people experience illness, she said many patients “are not being properly referred or identified.”
In August, the Biden administration launched the National Research Action Plan on Long Covid He focused on better understanding how to prevent, diagnose and treat long-term COVID, naming health equity a “guiding principle” in that work. He also published a report outlining federal services available to people who have had Covid for a long time.
Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has had Covid for a long time and continues to experience nerve tingling that began when he contracted Covid in March 2020, acknowledges that there are still significant barriers to accessing long-term Covid care, but it is optimistic that things are good. moving in the right direction as more is learned about the condition.
“We are certainly better than we were at the start of Covid,” Kaine told POLITICO, referring to health inequalities. “We spot disparities faster, and that may allow us to devise strategies to overcome those disparities faster.”
The CARE for Long COVID Actwhich Kaine sponsored, among other things, would provide funds to CDC to focus on better understanding differences in access to diagnosis and treatment. He is hopeful that the $25 million in funding for this work, which was included in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s latest text for the year-end omnibus bill, will be put into law.
Many who have long treated Covid patients say lawmakers and the White House need to do more to support patients and raise awareness about the condition, particularly as deaths from it rise. Despite the growing body of evidence that prolonged covid poses a serious and widespread threat to health, the Biden administration has not done enough to provide funding for clinics or educate people on what to look for in themselves or their patients, they say.
“We have very few resources and we are completely inundated with patients,” said Janna Friedly, executive director of the Post-Covid Recovery and Rehabilitation Clinic at the University of Washington. “We are booked for over a year at the moment. It is not a good way to provide care to patients.”
He said he would like to see the federal government provide more funding both for research and to support the few clinics that exist.
“It is largely being forgotten,” he said. “We are seeing less attention to the lingering effects of Covid, which are still here and will be for years to come.”