Virus Expert Just Issued This Important COVID Update
He may not yet have the household name recognition of Anthony Fauci, but Ashish Jha is one of the country's most important voices on the COVID pandemic. The longtime public-health expert is the new White House COVID-19 response coordinator, responsible for synthesizing the latest science and directing it into public policy and messaging. In an interview this week with the New Yorker, Jha issued some important updates on the state of the pandemic, in particular on one of its most mysterious facets: long COVID. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Some "Long COVID" Symptoms May Be Normal Post-Viral Issues
Asked how worried Americans should be about long COVID, Jha noted that "post-viral syndromes have existed forever. If you take people who get influenza and survey them thirty days after the onset of symptoms, a lot of them will have lingering issues. When you see studies that say twenty, thirty per cent of people with a coronavirus infection get long COVID, a lot of that is post-viral symptoms that will resolve."
But That Doesn't Mean Long COVID Isn't a Problem
"That said, long COVID is a real problem," said Jha. "We don't have precise assessments, but as I look at the data there's clearly a proportion of people who get infected—probably in the single digits—who have substantial symptoms, often significant disability, well beyond thirty days. That's a big number if you have a country where a lot of people have gotten infected."
In fact, the General Accounting Office estimates that between 8 million and 23 million Americans have developed long COVID so far. According to CDC data through November 2021, one in five Americans aged 18 to 64 reported a later health condition that may be attributable to COVID-19. Among adults over 65, the number was one in four.
What Causes Long COVID?
That's the zillion-dollar question. More than two years into the pandemic, experts still aren't sure what triggers the condition. "What we call long COVID is probably a combination of multiple conditions," said Jha. "In some people, it might be a persistent viral reservoir causing problems. In other people, it could be autoimmune issues. In others, it may be tissue damage from the initial infection that continues to cause substantial symptoms."
More Research Needed
Jha noted that in addition to determining the cause or causes of long COVID, experts should determine whether medical interventions—from vaccinations to antiviral drugs like Paxlovid—can reduce the risk. "We need to understand all that stuff better," he said. "The tricky part is that we have to do two things at once. On one hand, we can't let long COVID become this thing that strikes fear in the hearts of everybody. And yet, at the same time, we can't minimize long COVID."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.