Tucson Medical Center and the Pima County Health Department will host a virtual public discussion panel on the signs and treatment options for anyone that may be experiencing COVID-19 "long-haul" symptoms.

The presentation will begin at 6 p.m. on Wednesday and can be accessed here. Viewers can submit questions to the four-person panel with the link. Anyone who misses the event can watch it on the TMC HealthCare Youtube page the next day and ask questions through the comments which experts will answer, said moderator Tim Bentley, a TMC spokesman.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even people who experienced no symptoms of the virus, can start noticing some of the following conditions:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities (also known as post-exertional malaise)
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Cough
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations).
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Pins-and-needles feeling
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleep problems
  • Fever
  • Dizziness upon standing (lightheadedness)
  • Rash
  • Mood changes
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Changes in menstrual period cycles

In rare cases, the condition can affect the function of one or more organs, requiring hospitalization and a long recovery period.

TMC had been getting questions concerning long COVID already and had been trying to inform the community during the pandemic, Bentley said. 

"It seems like we struck a nerve" by finding a demand for this information in the community, Bentley said. TMC has been hosting a lecture series since April 2020 — early in the pandemic — on topics such as COVID-19 itself, vaccinating pregnant women, and vaccinating teenagers and kids. A long-haul COVID town hall "seemed like the next logical step," Bentley said.

The panel will feature a doctor, a therapist from TMC and a doctor from SPARCC, a local sports medicine practice, and Paula Mandel, Health Department deputy director. The TMC panelists include Dr. Sean Elliott, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases, and Dr. Emily Rich, an outpatient therapist who has been studying long-haul symptoms like sleep issues, depression, severe tiredness and shortness of breath.

Rich will talk about a trend in long-haulers to experience loss of taste and smell. The same symptom happens in people with COVID, but Rich is finding that people are experiencing it after COVID as well.

Mandel will give an overview on long-haul COVID in the community and provide data on about trends. She'll also talk about what the county is doing to implement safety measures against COVID and how they're helping TMC identify long-haul COVID.

Mortazavi is an expert in neurological damage, including how the brain and neurons system recover from traumatic head injury.

"A lot of this long-haul COVID, a lot of what he sees in brain injuries is what we're seeing in long-haul COVID patients," Bentley said. "He knows how the brain heals itself and how it repairs itself over the long-term. That expertise is invaluable right now."

According to TMC, 280 people have pre-registered for the event, and about a third of them have submitted a question in advance.

Researchers are still working to understand the signs and symptoms of long-haul COVID, the nature of long-term prognoses, how long-haul COVID can affect other risk factors like diabetes, and determining treatments. Panelists will cover those topics, as well as answering other COVID-related questions.

The first couple of vaccine information town halls had around 250 people, but most other TMC COVID town halls have had between 120-150, making this event the most popular. TMC is considering other events town halls about long-haul COVID that answer questions like how it affects the boosted.

"The hospital, TMC, had been on the forefront of treating COVID and getting the community vaccinated and sharing information," Bentley said. "Now, the reality is COVID is here, and people who have been through COVID are showing some signs and symptoms. It has people starting to wonder, are these effects from COVID? how long does it last? These are real symptoms people are going through, so let's get ahead of it."

TMC has two additional lectures scheduled in May about more specific problems related to long-haul COVID. The first lecture, "Cognitive and Exertional Deficits after COVID-19," will take place on May 4 at noon. The second lecture, "Dysautonomias and Chronic Fatigue after COVID-19," is scheduled for May 22 at 2 p.m.  Dysautonomias refers to a type of nervous system dysfunction that affects the heart, digestion and blood pressure. There will be a question and answer period at both sessions.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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