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“Long COVID,” in which COVID-sufferers continue to have long-term neurological and other symptoms for long periods of time after apparently recovering from their initial illness, can be considered a disability under federal law, the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department said Monday.
People whose long COVID qualifies as disability, who are sometimes called “long haulers,” are “entitled to the same protections from discrimination as any other person with a disability” under federal law, the joint statement issued by the agencies says.
The statement cites the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The statement cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as stating people with long COVID have a range of new or ongoing symptoms that can last for weeks or months after they are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and these can worsen with physical or mental activity.
These symptoms include tiredness or fatigue, difficulty thinking or concentrating, shortness of breath or difficulty breaching or headache, among others, the statement said.
The statement said long COVID’s physical or mental impairment can substantially limit major life activities, and this should be construed broadly under federal law “and not demand extensive analysis.”
However, long COVID should not automatically be considered a disability, it says. “An individualized assessment is necessary to determine whether a person’s long COVID condition or symptoms substantially limits a major life activity,” the statement said. “The CDC and health experts are working to better understand long COVID.”
It said because long COVID can be considered a disability, organizations may have to change the way they operate to accommodate its sufferers. Reasonable modifications including modifying procedures so a customer who finds it too tiring to stand in line can announce their presence and sit down without losing their place in line.
The statement includes a list of federal resources for people with long COVID symptoms.
While prescription medications used to treat COVID-19 symptoms represented less than 1% of all prescriptions processed by Matrix Healthcare Services Inc. in 2020, the pharmacy benefits manager says a “number of early indicators are pointing to a potential rise” in the virus drug spending in 2021 due to lingering COVID-19 symptoms.