Wellness—of ourselves, our families, members of our community and the public at large —is of paramount importance. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19). On March 9, 2021, by Executive Order No. 103, Governor Philip Murphy similarly declared a state of emergency concerning the spread of COVID-19.
While the vast majority of the population infected by the virus has recuperated, individuals continue to suffer ongoing and debilitating symptoms, and are now considered long haulers by the medical community. The CDC on its website defined post-COVID conditions as health issues that persist more than four weeks after being infected with the COVID-19 virus. Statistics have shown that about 10% of the infected population have long COVID-19 symptoms from the coronavirus. Those symptoms can range from conditions impacting one’s physical health and wellbeing to one’s psychological health. according to the CDC.1
The long-haulers’ condition, called long COVID-19, has remained somewhat of a mystery to the medical community. As individuals have continued to be infected by different strains of the virus and recuperated, the long term-effects of the virus have differed from person to person. Many individuals continue to suffer lasting conditions —lung and heart, neurologic, autoimmune, vascular, and numerous other ailments—which substantially impact their daily living. Aside from the physical ailments, many individuals continue to suffer from psychological effects from having to endure lasting long COVID-19 symptoms.
There have been a number of medical studies conducted and other medical studies underway by the National Institutes for Health concerning the cause underlying the long-haulers’ symptoms and the recommended treatment for long COVID-19 symptoms Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH, has written several blogs on the subject: “Citizen Scientists Take On the Challenges of Long Haul COVID-19,”2 “Trying to Make Sense of Long COVID Symptoms,”3 “NIH Launches New Initiative to Study ‘Long COVID’,”4 and recently, “Predicting ‘Long COVID Syndrome’ With Help of a Smartphone App.”5
Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City was the first hospital to create a post-COVID recovery clinic to study the long-haulers’ symptoms and to determine methods of treatment. Since that time, there are currently a number of post-COVID recovery clinics in New Jersey. Many of the New Jersey hospitals that have created these recovery clinics focus not only on the long-hauler symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, but also focus on the path of wellness through a multidisciplinary approach by the team of specialists.
Treatment of long-haulers has consisted of testing, monitoring symptoms and recommendations for all types of rehabilitation, consisting of physical, occupational and speech therapy and in some instances, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation and cognitive rehabilitation for post-COVID care.
Since the public has been substantially impacted by the lasting effects of COVID-19, we need to advocate for our wellness along with the wellness of our broader community and the public at large to address the needs of those suffering the lasting consequences of the pandemic. The CARES Act of 2020 provided some financial relief to individuals and their families. Thereafter, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 provided guidance as to tax credits to employers for sick leave benefits and family leave benefits mandated to be paid by employers to employees impacted by COVID-19 under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act through December 31, 2020. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 extended the payroll tax credits to employers for sick leave and family leave benefits voluntarily paid to those employees impacted by COVID-19 through September 30, 2021.
Long COVID is not clearly defined under the provisions of the CARES Act of 2020, the Family First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 or the extension of the Act in 2021. Legislation is therefore necessary to further clarify payment of benefits to employees and tax credits to employers for payment of benefits to employees for long-term symptoms from COVID-19 under these acts.
Additionally, since the disability laws have not yet addressed long COVID as a condition, legislation is necessary to support the funding and the expansion of medical research and to establish a basis for short-term and long-term disability for those individuals who suffer with long-term conditions as a result of being infected by COVID-19. Further, since long COVID is not yet recognized as a condition for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), legislation is also necessary to address reasonable accommodations for those individuals who continue to suffer from the long-term effects of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Finally, since the medical community is in the process of collecting data to research and study the condition and its treatment, collaboration between the legal and medical community to combat the long term effects of the virus is necessary. The time for advocacy has come to ensure that we collectively address the ongoing debilitating effects of the long haulers suffering from long covid.
Barbara Ungar, Esq., is a solo practitioner with a general practice located in Edison, New Jersey. For more information about advocacy and resources for the post-COVID-19 virus in New Jersey, you may contact the Law Office of Barbara Ungar, 168 U.S. Highway Route 1 North, Edison, New Jersey (732) 828-8700 or via the law firm website at www.ungarlawyernj.com.
1 Post-COVID Conditions: Information for Healthcare Providers: https://bit.ly/32PKbmk
2 Citizens Scientists Take on the Challenge of Long Haul COVID 19 (September 3, 2020): https://bit.ly/32M6GJ1
3 Trying to Make Sense of Long COVID Syndrome (January 19, 2021): https://bit.ly/3sU4v0m
4 NIH launches new initiative to study ‘Long COVID (February 23, 2021): https://bit.ly/3326rtz
5 Predicting ‘Long COVID Syndrome’ with Help of a Smartphone App (March 23, 2021): https://bit.ly/2QxpE3t