Three years ago, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) developed flu-like symptoms. It turned out to be COVID. He never got very sick, and his symptoms eventually went away. Except one. “I noticed one day that my nerve endings turned on like a light switch was flipped and all of them started to tingle like my skin had been dipped in an Alka-Seltzer,” Kaine said last week. “24/7, every nerve ending in my body. It has not gone away in 3 years.”
For most, the pandemic seems like a bad dream as it falls to the back of our day-to-day concerns. But the coronavirus isn’t through with us yet. People are still getting sick, especially those burdened with long COVID.
Although there is no clinical definition of long COVID, the Centers for Disease Control describes it as a wide range of new, returning or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with SARS-CoV-2.
That’s a pretty large — and vague — basket to drop a disease into. That’s because long COVID manifests itself in a variety of ways. Symptoms can include extreme fatigue, trouble concentrating, memory problems, heart problems, organ damage, a persistent cough, difficulty breathing or, like Kaine, a nerve-end buzzing that doesn’t go away. One of the problems with long COVID is that we don’t know enough about it.
Last week, Kaine, along with Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and other legislators, introduced a bill calling for the Department of Health and Human Services to compile and study data on long COVID patients, including the effectiveness of treatments. The bill also seeks to have DHS conduct COVID-related education programs throughout the country. The Comprehensive Access to Resources and Education For Long COVID Act has a price tag of $475 million. A similar bill introduced last year languished in committee and was not brought to a vote.
That shouldn’t be allowed to happen this year. We call on Congress to promote research into long COVID and support for those who suffer from it. Medical science needs more information on how long COVID spreads, its symptoms and how to treat it. It needs a better understanding of who is most vulnerable to which symptoms, how long the illness lasts, and why the different variants affect patients differently. A soon-to-be-published study found that people infected with the Omicron variant are less likely to develop long COVID after being vaccinated than those who had COVID-19 before the emergence of Omicron. Finding out why is a key task for researchers.
DHS expects the COVID emergency to end in May. But that doesn’t mean that COVID will disappear or that long COVID won’t persist. Unfortunately, both will remain. And the need for research and treatment will continue. The elderly, people with preexisting conditions, the poor and people of color continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic. Their vulnerabilities should not be forgotten. The CARE For Long COVID Act will help. We encourage strong consideration and passage of the legislation.