The Biden government says some long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms can be considered a disability under federal law.
The White House held a virtual presentation Monday to people affected by what is known as the “long-range” COVID-19 to explain how the Americans with Disability Act could provide relief. Among them was Georgia Linders from Wisconsin.
Linders is 44, but says there are days when she feels decades older. Exhaustion is just one of many lingering symptoms she has had since late March 2020 when she believed she was infected with COVID-19 before tests were widely available.
She can no longer work and topped up her retirement plan before receiving state rent allowance and medical care through BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid program.
“I really liked my job. It was fast-paced. And I was good at it,” said Linders, who lives in Onalaska with her adult son.
But Linders was given temporary medical leave in November after her manager at a La Crosse health company said her performance had deteriorated. She was later released.
“I worked from home and took as many breaks as I needed to cope with it, like taking a nap on my lunch break,” said Linders. “But my problem is with my brain. I just can’t get the job done in the time it takes.”
In addition to cognitive problems, she says her hands and feet are falling asleep, they still can’t taste or smell, and her heart is racing even with light activity. She hopes her symptoms will go away or the doctors will find treatment so that she can get back to work.
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Researchers believe COVID-19 can increase the risk of long-term health problems. A World Health Organization report published in February showed that 1 in 10 people infected with COVID-19 were still unwell 12 weeks after their first attack, and many had symptoms for much longer.
Linders said she had symptoms for a year and a half and contacted both US Senators from Wisconsin. She also applied for disability insurance.
Last week the U.S. Department of Health and Justice issued guidance declaring that persistent symptoms of COVID-19 can be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The guidelines recognize that COVID-19 is not always a disability over long distances and suggests that an individual assessment is needed to determine whether a person’s condition or symptoms are materially limiting an important life activity such as employment.
And experts warn that the process of obtaining benefits can be complex and lengthy.
“So it won’t be impossible, but it could be difficult,” said Eva Shiffrin, senior attorney at Disability Rights Wisconsin. “Disability benefits are hard to come by anyway. It’s a myth that it is easy to get, and all you have to do is submit applications until you get them.
But Linders said she was hopeful.
“Hopefully it will get better and I’ll go back to work one day. I’m 44 years old, but I feel like 84 years old,” she said.