Mar 22, 2024 - COVID

How long COVID is still affecting Coloradans

Data: Colorado Health Access Survey, Colorado Health Institute; Chart: John Frank/Axios
Data: Colorado Health Access Survey, Colorado Health Institute; Chart: John Frank/Axios

Four years after the pandemic shut down Colorado, the coronavirus is an afterthought for many. Yet for one in seven of those who became infected, it remains an everyday burden.

Why it matters: The scope of long COVID is just now coming into focus, and the state says a new approach is needed as patients wait months for care and suffer major symptoms at home.

Threat level: Recent surveys at the state and federal levels estimate 5-7% of the state's population, or roughly 240,000 residents, are suffering the effects of long COVID.

  • As many as 30% reported having COVID symptoms last three months or longer, in line with national rates, according to a new state report.
  • Colorado Health Institute experts suggest the numbers represent an undercount because of the lack of long COVID testing.

Friction point: Given its complexities, many physicians don't have the capacity or expertise to diagnose or treat the disease.

  • The three Colorado clinics specializing in long COVID — two in the Denver metro and one in Grand Junction — are overwhelmed with patients, who are waiting one to six months to get care, the state reports.

Between the lines: The rate of new COVID infections and hospitalizations is slightly above historic four-year lows and is expected to decrease as warmer months arrive.

What they're saying: "Long COVID impacts a substantial number of Coloradans, many of whom face major challenges in returning to everyday life after their illness," state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said in a statement.

The big picture: The financial consequences for patients with long COVID are significant, too. 46% had to take time off jobs or school, while another 34% had to reduce their work hours, the health institute survey found. 7% quit their jobs.

  • "After the third bout of COVID, I ended up getting fired from my job and lost my health insurance," long COVID patient Amanda Olin said in a recent survey.
  • "There is such misunderstanding, and it sits on top of so much stigma," another respondent said.

Zoom in: People of color and those with lower incomes and resources are being hit the hardest, according to the health institute survey.

  • For instance, those with food and housing insecurity were more likely to report long COVID symptoms, researchers found.

What's next: The Polis administration, led by Lt. Gov. Diane Primavera, is working to raise awareness.

  • A report from her office demands "rethinking the model of care" altogether. It urges health care providers to develop better care and the state to find ways to subsidize the costs for patients.
  • More specifically, the report calls for making long COVID diagnosis skills part of graduate medical curriculums.

The bottom line: Regardless of where new COVID infections stand, the pandemic won't go away any time soon.

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