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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

“Long-haulers;” When covid doesn’t go away

Reid Hartman ’23 said that his everyday activities are affected by long-haul covid-19, with one side effect being chest tightness. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

Kevin Villec ’23 contracted covid-19 in February, but he never seemed to fully recover. His biggest complaint was shortness of breath. 

“One day I was walking around the city, just a couple blocks, and I was hands on my knees gasping for air,” Villec recalled. “Just something as simple as walking up the steps would take a lot out of me.”

In June, Villec saw a pulmonologist and cardiologist for an examination of his heart and lungs due to chest pain. Doctors found nothing wrong with his lungs, but his electrocardiogram test came back showing heart issues

“They’re still unsure whether it’s covid-related or not,” said Villec, though he added he’s convinced he has long-haul covid.

Long-haul covid-19, also known as long covid or post-acute covid, refers to the condition in which covid patients experience symptoms that persist for at least four weeks, or months, after first getting sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Symptoms may include shortness of breath and trouble with cognitive functions, often called “brain fog.” Other symptoms include headaches, coughing or fatigue, among others.  

Long-haul covid is not uncommon, according to Dr. David Pegues, professor of medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and medical director of Healthcare Epidemiology and Infection Control at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

“A majority of persons who’ve recovered from covid will have one or more symptoms consistent with long covid,” Pegues said. “Most commonly, that symptom is fatigue.”

Pegues said long-haul covid symptoms can negatively impact quality of life.

“Whether it’s the visible symptoms, or the psychological or cognitive symptoms, a lot of people have an impact on their overall quality of life,” Pegues said. “It’s important that people who have these persistent symptoms be linked to care, and there are all sorts of medical and psychological evaluations that can be performed that, in many cases, improves people’s health status.”

That was the case for Reid Hartman ’23, who continues to experience covid symptoms over a year and a half after contracting the virus in April 2020.

“I can’t taste anything,” said Hartman, who has not been officially tested for long covid. “Sometimes I can’t smell. Afterward my lung capacity was different. I started to feel more tired after going to class. I started feeling more out of breath.”

Testing for long-haul covid generally involves an electrocardiogram, a physical and lab work, Pegues said. 

“But it can include more complicated things like doing formal breathing tests called pulmonary function tests, looking for heart rhythm problems with a two-hour heart monitor called a Holter monitor, typically exercise testing where they hook you up to the machine and look at your oxygenation with exercise,” Pegues explained. 

In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance stating that long-haul covid can be classified as a disability under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Because of that, St. Joe’s began offering ADA accommodations this fall for students with long-haul covid symptoms. 

Christine Mecke, Ed.D., director of Student Disability Services at St. Joe’s, said while there are currently no St. Joe’s students registered for ADA accommodations because of long-haul covid, the Office of Student Disability Services is willing to offer accommodations to any student who needs it. 

Rather than have a set of accommodations for all students, Mecke said her office will base accommodations on the needs and symptoms of individual students. They don’t need to have an official diagnosis of long-haul covid, she said. 

“It could be that they have fatigue or it might be that they have muscle pains, so it would all really depend on what the symptoms are and also what are the recommendations from their doctor,” Mecke said. “It’s difficult for me to just say these are the five things that any student with long-haul covid would get. It’s always based on an individual decision and an interactive conversation with the students.”

Villec said he wasn’t aware he could apply for accommodations and may consider doing that.

“I’m struggling to pay attention,” Villec said. “Things like that have affected my schoolwork.” 

A St. Joe’s senior, who asked to remain unnamed for privacy reasons, said after testing positive for covid in March, she has experienced “brain fog” and fatigue, and has had difficulty speaking. She said she is looking into applying this fall for accommodations.

“I would be talking to people, and I just couldn’t get the words out at all,” the student said. “I had very bad headaches and just trouble focusing.”

The student said because her lasting covid symptoms affects her ability to do classwork, she plans to apply for ADA accommodations for taking quizzes and tests after her lasting covid symptoms affected her ability to do classwork.

“I’m trying to get extra time, which wasn’t necessarily something I always needed,” the student said. “But having extra time on things to process information would be better. Sometimes even if I’m studying, my attention span isn’t as long. I need a little bit more time for some of my heavier courses in order to really grasp the information.”

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