This World Health Day, we’re reflecting on COVID-19, which flipped our worlds upside down and took over our thoughts and behaviors for a long time. We can think about the “before” times, when perhaps we didn’t even own a mask, didn’t think twice about a handshake, and never missed a wedding or family gathering. Now, we are entering the “after” times, whether we’re ready or not the COVID-19 National Public Health Emergency is scheduled to end on May 11th. For many, COVID-19 protocols are a thing of the past, but while we can all resonate with the urge to move on, “long-haulers” may feel left behind.

The hard facts on Long COVID remain hard to pin down. New Hampshire’s WMUR9 news station reports that between 16 and 35 million Americans have contracted Long COVID, leaving an estimated 4 million Americans unable to work, at least for a period of time. In an NBC News analysis of data reported from the Census Bureau, 11% of those surveyed who had ever contracted COVID-19 were actively suffering from long COVID in February 2023, which was down from 19% in June of 2022. Medical experts estimate that the likelihood of coming down with Long COVID is around 5-10% for those fully vaccinated and 15-20% for the unvaccinated1. Certain demographics may be more vulnerable; a review in the journal Nature indicates that women and people with Type 2 diabetes or ADHD may have an elevated risk of contracting Long COVID.

Regardless of exact numbers, employers should not lose sight of Long COVID, which could leave a significant portion of its workforce with brain fog, respiratory problems, depression, or other symptoms that make it difficult to do their day jobs. While we do seem to be moving in the right direction in terms of quantity of diagnoses, we all know that the prevalence of COVID can ebb and flow, and that no two cases seem to be the same. We recommend having open and frequent dialogues with employees who report Long COVID debilitations, as you may be able to make accommodations or assist in identifying the resources they need. Understanding if and how your leave, sick, and disability plans account for Long COVID is also important. In some cases, a severe Long COVID symptom could result in a disability covered in your short-term disability plan, or an employee may be eligible for leave under the FMLA or other applicable program. For employees dealing with Long COVID, knowing that they have options to either take leave, adjust their job requirements or schedule, or generally receive support can go a long way.

Watch the recording of our webinar, Why Long COVID Needs Short-Term Attention, where we dive deep with a pulmonologist on the state of Long COVID and offer employers strategies to mitigate what could be long-lasting affects on claims costs and workforce productivity.