How COVID-19 Long Haulers Could Change the U.S. Disability Benefits System
When COVID-19 began spreading in the U.S. in March 2020, McKale Santin was working at a nursing home in Burlington, Vermont. She and her coworkers didn’t yet know how deadly the virus would become, but she remembers feeling nervous as the first patients got sick and she was asked to examine them with only a surgical mask, not the more protective N95 mask that she wore to test for conditions like tuberculosis. One day, a patient pulled down her own mask to sneeze while Santin was conducting a respiratory assessment. Soon after, the woman became one of Vermont’s first people to die from COVID-19—and Santin fell ill. The 33-year-old nurse developed a deep, burning cough, and a fever so intense she would sweat through her bed sheets for weeks. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] Sixteen months later, she is still suffering from debilitating symptoms. Formerly a competitive cyclist and rock climber, Santin now has a difficult time climbing the stairs to her apartment, constantly feels fatigued, often loses her balance due to numbness in her feet, has swollen joints, and experiences brain fog. “So much in my life is different now,” she says. “It’s really slow progress. It almost feels like learning how to work your body again.” Santin is one of a growing number of so-called long-haulers—people whose symptoms linger many weeks or months after their initial case of COVID-19. Researchers estimate between 10% and 30% of C...
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