More than half a million people in Wisconsin are COVID "long haulers,” according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Nationwide, 7.7 to 23 million Americans have developed Long COVID, as reported by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Long haulers are people who experience mild to debilitating symptoms for months or even years after first being infected with COVID. Their symptoms affect their ability to engage in everyday activities, including work, going to school, and participating in community life.
Guidance on Long Covid as a Disability Under the ADA
In response to this growing health crisis, the U.S. Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice joined forces to provide guidance to people with questions about Long COVID and the ADA. Here are their answers to several commonly asked questions.
An estimated 2 to 4 million U.S. employees are out of the workforce because of long-term effects of COVID-19. And in a recent survey, 44% of patients with Long COVID reported not being able to work at all, compared to their pre-COVID-19 work capacity. 51% had reduced their working hours. (Source: WPR)
What is Long COVID and what are its symptoms?
People with Long COVID have a range of new or ongoing symptoms that can last weeks or months after they are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Examples of common symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes called “brain fog”)
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Dizziness on standing
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (known as heart palpitations)
- Chest pain
- Joint or muscle pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Loss of taste or smell
Can Long COVID be a disability under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557?
Yes, Long COVID can be a disability under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557 if it substantially limits one or more major life activities. “Major life activities” include a wide range of activities, such as:
- Caring for oneself
- Performing manual tasks
- Seeing, hearing, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing
- Eating and sleeping
- Learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, writing, communicating
- Interacting with others
It also includes the operation of a major bodily function, such as the functions of the immune system, cardiovascular system, neurological system, circulatory system, or the operation of an organ.
How could Long COVID substantially limit a major life activity?
Here are examples of how Long COVID could limit a major life activity, including work:
- A person with Long COVID who has lung damage that causes shortness of breath, fatigue, and related effects is substantially limited in respiratory function, among other major life activities.
- A person with Long COVID who has symptoms of intestinal pain, vomiting, and nausea that have lingered for months is substantially limited in gastrointestinal function, among other major life activities.
- A person with Long COVID who experiences memory lapses and “brain fog” is substantially limited in brain function, concentrating, and/or thinking.
Is Long COVID always a disability?
No, Long COVID is not always a disability. A person needs an individualized assessment to determine whether a person’s Long COVID condition or any of its symptoms substantially limits a major life activity.
What rights do people whose Long COVID qualifies as a disability have under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557?
People whose Long COVID qualifies as a disability are entitled to the same protections from discrimination as any other person with a disability. Put simply, they are entitled to full and equal opportunities to participate in and enjoy all aspects of community and commercial life.
This includes the right to reasonable accommodations for Long COVID-related limitations. Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Visual reminders posted in physical and virtual workstations for employees.
- Providing additional time on a test for a student who has difficulty concentrating.
- 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.
- Modifying a policy to allow a person who experience dizziness when standing to be accompanied by their service animal that is trained to stabilize them.
Resources for People with Symptoms of Long COVID
Communities and agencies are uniting to provide support and resources to people with symptoms of Long COVID. If you are looking for information and support, here are several resources to get started with:
- The Administration for Community Living’s document, “How ACL’s Disability and Aging Networks Can Help People with Long COVID,” provides information on resources and programs to assist people with Long COVID.
- People who wish to learn more about COVID-19 and employment can visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission page, which provides COVID-19 information and resources.
- You can find assistance with housing, income, food, health care, and more, anywhere in Wisconsin: COVID-19: Response Resources for Wisconsinites | Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
- COVID-19 Long-Haulers Support group is sponsored by the covidCAREgroup, the largest COVID/PASC recovery resource worldwide.
- The COVID-19 Long Haulers Discussion group is an online meeting place for people of all walks with longer-term COVID-19 symptoms. It offers experiences and support.
Read More about Long COVID in Wisconsin
More than half a million people in Wisconsin are experiencing the impact of Long COVID. This article shares the personal stories of Wisconsin residents impacted by Long COVID and explores Long COVID’s impact on the workforce.