On April 28, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, presided over by Chair Anna Eshoo (D-CA), held a hearing entitled, “The Long Haul: Forging a Path through the Lingering Effects of COVID-19.” The hearing consisted of two panels: patients stricken with long-term symptoms of COVID-19 and Federal health officials. Witnesses on both panels included:
- Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- John T. Brooks, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Response
- Steven Deeks, M.D., Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
- Jennifer Possick, M.D., Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, Director, Post-COVID Recovery Program, Winchester Center for Lung Disease, Yale-New Haven Hospital
- Natalie Hakala, Patient, Eugene, OR
- Lisa McCorkell, Patient, Oakland, CA
- Chimere Smith, Patient, Baltimore, MD
In his opening statement, Dr. Collins voiced concerns over the emerging issue of long-term COVID-19 symptoms and described actions the Federal government is taking to address this issue. He noted in his testimony that individuals suffering from long-term COVID-19 struggle with a wide variety of symptoms impacting almost all systems in the human body. Dr. Collins described some of the most common symptoms as fatigue; difficulty thinking; abnormal sleep patterns; persistent loss of taste and smell; muscle pain; and shortness of breath.
Dr. Collins noted that late last year Congress appropriated $1.15 billion to carry out research on long-term COVID-19, using what is called a “meta-cohort”—using existing and new cohorts of research participants to collect data on long-term health effects. Dr. Collins noted that these studies will use a diverse set of populations in age, sex, race, and demographics.
In his testimony, Dr. Brooks outlined the CDC definition of post-COVID conditions as those that persist for more than four weeks after initial infection. Dr. Brooks recognized that marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, are more likely to be disproportionately impacted by long-term COVID-19, and asserting that the Federal government will continue to place health equity at the center of all its initiatives. NACCHO has been a strong advocate for health equity throughout the pandemic, advising lawmakers to consider underserved populations during testing, contact tracing, and vaccine allocation.
Dr. Brooks also noted that older patients, particularly those with underlying health conditions, are at an increased risk for severe disease and long-term COVID-19, though younger patients have also reported long-term symptoms of the virus. Dr. Brooks stated that although causes of long-term COVID-19 are still unclear, officials are hypothesizing that damage to blood vessels, autoimmune effects, and ongoing infection may be the possible sources.
Members testifying on the second panel outlined their personal struggles from the virus. Witnesses described feeling mild symptoms during the first two weeks after infection, followed by several issues, including chest pain, severe fatigue, and pneumonia. One witness described symptoms such as a decrease in oxygen levels, memory loss, and the inability to watch television or read due to severe headaches for months post-infection. Panelists also outlined the burden long-term COVID-19 has had on communities of color, and underserved areas already struggling with the impacts of the pandemic and the financial crisis. Witnesses also testified that some physicians and medical professionals were not taking their symptoms seriously, attributing them to normal conditions or overreactions.