anti-discrimination laws protect people disabled by long COVID

USA TODAY

Biden said COVID-19 long-haulers may qualify as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.Symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath, sleeping disorders, fevers, so-called “brain fog” and more.The administration released information on how long-haulers can get accommodations in various places.

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration acted Monday to protect people suffering long-term health consequences from COVID-19 from discrimination.

“We’re bringing agencies together to make sure Americans with long COVID, who have a disability, have access to the rights and resources that are due under the disability law,” President Joe Biden said during an event celebrating the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Biden said that includes accommodations and services in the workplace, schools and the healthcare system.

The departments of Health, Justice, Education and Labor released guidance explaining that long COVID can be a disability under various federal civil rights laws.

For example, the guidance says long COVID can qualify as a disability under the ADA if it substantially limits one or more major life activity. Those include working, performing manual tasks, sleeping, eating, breathing, concentrating and communicating.

The Department of Labor launched a new webpage with information on how to request workplace accommodations.

The Education Department clarified schools’ responsibilities to students for whom long COVID is a disability. 

“Many Americans who seemingly recover from the virus still face lingering challenges,” Biden said.

About 30% of COVID-19 patients reported persistent symptoms as long as nine months after illness, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open in February.

These symptoms included fatigue, shortness of breath, sleeping disorders, fevers, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety and depression, and so-called “brain fog.” 

Researchers have found women are more likely to have long COVID-19 than men. Also, the likelihood of persistent symptoms increases with age.

In February, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced the launch of a nationwide initiative to study long COVID, which he called Post Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC).

Monday’s announcement on disability protections was praised by Protect Our Care, a group created to protect and expand the Affordable Care Act. Executive director Brad Woodhouse called long COVID a serious condition affecting an untold number of Americans.

“While the scale of this problem is unlikely to be understood for years to come,” he said, “it is clear that Americans with long COVID-19 need relief now.”

Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez.


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