“Nearly half of those who had long covid had to take time off of work or school (about 138,000 people), and another third of them had to take reduced hours at work (more than 102,000 people),” said Lindsey Whittington, the institute’s data and analysis manager, and co-principal investigator.

The results come from the 2023 Colorado Health Access Survey, with questions asked in 2023 of 10,000 households, a robust sample of Coloradans.

Around one in 20 (nearly 20,000) had to leave their jobs, and a similar figure applied for disability benefits (around 24,000). 

“This further highlights the financial struggles of those who tested positive for COVID and experienced symptoms that made it difficult for them to work,” Whittington said.  

Nearly a quarter (62,000) suffered some other impact. 

The survey said that Colorado’s labor market lost “tens of thousands” of workers due to long COVID.

The lingering effects of long COVID are estimated to have hit more than 300,000 Coloradans, though that figure is likely an undercount, according to the survey.

Nearly half of Coloradans 16 and older said they’ve gotten a positive coronavirus test at some point since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. That equates to more than 2.2 million people, but the report notes the number is likely much higher because many either never took a COVID-19 test or got a false negative.

The survey gave participants an option to describe lingering, life-changing symptoms. Many said they had to cope with body fatigue and brain fog, which interfered with activities and hobbies. Many still reported problems breathing, a cough, or a need for oxygen or an inhaler.

“The results really didn’t surprise me much,” said Clarence Troutman of Denver. He had a 37-year career as a broadband technician derailed by the virus. He caught it early in the pandemic, was hospitalized and on a ventilator for a time, and ended up staying two months. His symptoms, particularly fatigue, have improved some but also persisted.

“I can relate to some things on the list, mainly the career impact of it all,” he said. “It’s truly been a life-changer.”

The data mirror what researchers at CU Anschutz have seen. 

“I think they demonstrate what we have heard individually from patients in the clinic of the last four years and highlight the larger societal impact for long COVID,” said Dr. Sarah Jolley, a researcher with CU Anshutz and medical director of the UCHealth Post-COVID Clinic

John Daley/CPR News
Dr. Kristine Erlandson, left, and Dr. Sarah Jolley stand in a research laboratory. The pair are part of a team working to figure out just what symptoms go along with long COVID.

They are part of the large national observational RECOVER studies, which include 90,000 adults and children and more than 300 clinical research sites around the U.S., Jolley said.  

The one in seven figure from the Colorado Health Institute’s survey seems low to Dan Stoot, a physical therapist at High Definition Physical Therapy in Englewood, who works with long COVID patients.

“The impact on lives, school, and jobs is very real,” said Stoot. 

He added that often forgotten is the fact that these individuals no longer have active COVID and most lab tests come back as normal.

“But they have very significant functional deficits that prevent them from being able to participate in their lives as they did prior to having COVID,” Stoot said.

At times schools and employers “write them off as if nothing is wrong, we see the same pattern in brain injury patients,” he said.

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