Long COVID highlighted as it relates to the Americans with Disabilities Act

Posted at 11:32 PM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-26 23:32:57-04

TAMPA, Fla. — While many recover from COVID-19, others are facing symptoms that linger.

On Monday, President Biden highlighted their plight while commemorating 31 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act. President Biden also highlighted the plight those with long COVID face.

"Many Americans who seemingly recovered from the virus still face lingering challenges like breathing problems, brain fog, chronic pain and fatigue,” said President Joe Biden. “These conditions can sometimes, can sometimes rise to the level of a disability. So we're bringing agencies together to make sure Americans with long Covid who have a disability have access to the rights and resources that are due under the disability law."

The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice published guidance on long COVID under the ADA.

The guidance states, “A person with long COVID has a disability if the person’s condition or any of its symptoms is a 'physical or mental' impairment that 'substantially limits' one or more major life activities.” It also notes long COVID isn’t always a disability.

It was welcome news for some long COVID patients.

“I was very excited. I mean it’s something I’ve been trying to explain to people that we need help,” Kristen Kowall said.

Kowall fell ill with a mild case of COVID-19 more than a year ago but describes lingering effects like brain fog, palpitations, heat intolerance and very low energy that make everyday tasks tough.

“I’m my identity is gone I’m just sick I’m sick all the time and it’s hard to fight for something that you need when it’s so new you know,” Kowall said.

“It’s a definite step in the right direction because there are so many out there they just don’t know 100 percent what to do with long COVID patients yet,” said Jennifer Treat.

Treat explained an understanding employer made a difference in her ability to work while dealing with the effects of long COVID.

“I feel lucky, I feel blessed. We found a way to make my work still have a positive impact for my company but I still I’m lucky I’m just one of the lucky ones not everybody is like that,” Treat said.

We turned to a legal expert to learn more about the impact of the guidance.

“Despite that, the guidelines today don’t necessarily apply to the employment context, I think that employers could expect to receive if they have not already especially as we return to work, requests for accommodations. So employers should treat those requests the same way that they do for other requests for accommodations in pre-covid environment,” said Anastasia Protopapadakis, a shareholder with the firm GrayRobinson.

Protopapadakis explained the importance of open lines of communications for employers and employees.

“I think at the end of the day the majority of employers are going to be open to providing accommodations and employees should not expect they’re going to get the exact accommodation that they’re requesting but should expect to have some work through with their employer on a reasonable accommodation that works for both the employer and the employer,” Protopapadakis

Advocates for long COVID patients said it’s a first step.

“Our members are getting denied disability every day and this is a recognition of the wrap-around services that we are going to need to provide to all survivors of COVID. And it’s not the end of the line either. It is a good first step. I worry that it’s a bit toothless because we still don’t have a diagnostic code for long-term COVID, said Diana Berrent, the founder of the organization Survivor Corps.

She’s preparing to lobby at the Capitol.

“We need long-term COVID care centers throughout the country. I could go on and on. We need a billing code. We need a name,” Berrent said.

“This is a disabling disease and people are unable to go back to work. And the symptoms that I’m describing are brutal. This isn’t the sort of just pushing through a little bit of fatigue or brain fog, this is keeping people from going back to work,” Berrent said.