Long COVID Patients and Long-Term Disability Insurance

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Long COVID Patients and Long-Term Disability Insurance

Long COVID Patients and Long-Term Disability Insurance


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause chaos around the globe, the number of those who have contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus has exceeded 130 million. Fortunately, most people who have had COVID-19 have recovered from the illness, but doctors report a significant percentage of patients who do not recover within twelve weeks after contracting the virus. Patients such as these in Canada have been diagnosed variously with “long COVID,” also known as “chronic COVID syndrome,” “long-haul COVID,” or “post-COVID-19 syndrome.”


What is Long COVID?


Emerging guidelines for diagnosing long COVID from the UK’s NHS specify “signs and symptoms that develop during or following an infection consistent with Covid-19, continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis.” In many cases, long COVID patients report that their initial infection caused only mild symptoms but was followed by far worse ones. Researchers estimate that between 10% and 30% of people who contract COVID may suffer from post-viral symptoms that can be classified as long COVID.


Karin Mason, a 46-year-old who was recently diagnosed with long COVID, was sidelined by her initial infection for more than two weeks. When she finally began to recover enough to resume her work as a self-employed florist, she found it difficult to concentrate on the tasks necessary and was unable to work more than 20 minutes at a time before needing to rest. As a result, her income has suffered. To compound the difficulty, Karin’s husband has also been diagnosed with long COVID and even now, two months after his initial infection, has been unable to resume his work as a landscaper. Of course, the couple’s personal life has also been affected, and Karin says that some nights even cooking and eating a simple supper can seem impossible. Both of them sleep far more than they normally would and suffer from clusters of symptoms -- such as headaches, shortness of breath, and joint pain -- that seem to abate but then recur. Mason says, “Our doctor doesn’t know how long our symptoms will go on, and I’m afraid we may be permanently affected.”


Long COVID symptoms vary greatly from patient to patient and may include a wide range of effects that can affect any system in the body. Respiratory symptoms are common, and a percentage of COVID patients sustain lasting damage to the lungs.


Common long COVID symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle pain or headache
  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Memory, concentration or sleep problems
  • Rash or hair loss


Some patients experience symptoms that greatly impact their functioning. Sonja Mally, a Toronto tattoo artist, has spent months battling long COVID symptoms, including debilitating exhaustion. But she says that the neurological effects of long COVID have been the most devastating. At one point a doctor asked her to draw a clock face, and, although art is her talent and her profession, Mally was unable to complete the task.


The Mayo Clinic reports that long-term health effects of COVID-19 can include organ damage. This can take the form of damage to the heart muscle that increases the risk of heart failure or other cardiac complications in the future or damage to the alveoli in the lungs that can lead to chronic breathing difficulties. The brain can also be affected, with COVID-19 sometimes causing strokes, seizures, or Guillain-Barre syndrome. Some studies appear to show an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.


Disability Claims


Obviously, chronic symptoms impact sufferers of long COVID in a number of different ways, but unlike many other conditions, obtaining insurance benefits can be challenging. Chantal Renaud, an Ottawa-area woman who contracted COVID-19 during the first wave in March of 2020, has been diagnosed with long COVID and suffers from symptoms such as debilitating fatigue, shortness of breath and a racing heartbeat. Renaud attempted to return back to work several times but has been unable to perform her duties. Although she was able to obtain short-term disability through her workplace insurance, her long-term disability claim was rejected in November.


Renaud’s case is not unique. Because the post-viral illness is so new, the medical community in Canada hasn’t yet established a protocol for how to recognize, diagnose, or treat sufferers. This means that accessing insurance benefits can be particularly difficult. And as governments scramble to contain outbreaks and keep the economy afloat, those suffering from chronic symptoms have been overlooked.


There are efforts underway to study the effects of long COVID in Canada, but until then those struggling to cope with the symptoms of this condition will need to fight for income replacement and other insurance benefits. If you or a loved one is unable to work due to the effects of long COVID, contact a personal injury lawyer today and learn more about the options available to you.