On Sept. 18, President Joe Biden declared: “The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”

Symptoms of long COVID

The U.S. had an average daily rate of 207 deaths from COVID-19 as of Dec. 10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 2,987 COVID-19 deaths in the week preceding Dec. 7, with 458,986 new cases. These figures indicate that the pandemic is not really over, even though most U.S. politicians and indeed most people throughout the world wish it were.

There is a lot of crowing in the U.S., especially among officials with public health responsibilities, about the changes China is making in its public health policies with respect to COVID. China has had 5,233 deaths and around 1.6 million cases since the beginning of the pandemic. According to Forbes: “If the U.S. were to report similar numbers every day for a week, it would be one of the country’s very best weeks throughout the entire pandemic.” (Dec. 3)

Those figures mean that, since China managed to keep exposure of people to COVID-19 low, the impact of long-term COVID in China will likewise be low.

But in the U.S., the 98 million confirmed COVID-19 cases mean that tens of millions of people in the United States will contract long COVID, a condition or conditions that are a consequence of being infected with COVID-19 and surviving the initial infection. The CDC and the World Health Organization have different definitions; and the medical establishment is still investigating what causes long COVID, which affects 15% to 25% of people with the disease.

Over 200 symptoms are associated with long COVID. Shortness of breath, fatigue and sleep disorders or insomnia are the most common. Others include anxiety, depression, heart palpitations and “brain fog,” when patients have problems with cognition, such as thinking, concentration, communication, comprehension, memory and motor function. Some sufferers have organ damage to their heart, lungs, kidneys, skin and brain. These symptoms can last for months and make it difficult or impossible to work.

The Census Bureau conducts a survey called the Household Pulse Survey which has been asking questions about long COVID since July 2022. According to HPS, 16 million workers in the U.S. have long COVID, and 2 million to 4 million are out of work due to it. Economists, using some involved calculations laid out in a Brookings report, project that this is equivalent to 1.8% of the entire U.S. civilian labor force. (tinyurl.com/3f8kcpbc)

If 3 million people are out of work, then their foregone wages, using the average U.S. wage of $1,106 per week, would amount to $168 billion a year, nearly 1% of the total gross domestic product. If the figure is closer to 4 million, then the working class would lose $230 billion, and of course the bourgeoisie would lose the profits on what these 4 million people would produce.

Given that most workers in the United States are “at-will” employees, the bosses can fire a worker who doesn’t show up for a few weeks, a few days or even a few hours. So these workers — many without paid sick leave — work when sick, even though it’s dangerous for themselves and their colleagues.

Beyond the direct loss of wages, there are losses in productivity. Workers might have difficulty doing some kinds of work. Medical expenses will rise; the safety net will be stretched; consumer spending will be reduced, and quality of life will suffer.

A Harvard economist, David Cutler, estimates that long COVID could cost the U.S. economy, more precisely U.S. workers, $3.7 trillion a year.

G. Dunkel

G.Dunkel@workers.org

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