Long COVID remains a mystery, but new bill would fund more research

Sen. Tim Kaine, who says he has some mild symptoms two years after being infected, has sponsored the bill. The White House also aims to do more research as part of its new COVID-19 plan.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine is sponsoring legislation to expand research in the long-term symptoms of COVID-19, and he has good reason beyond public health policy.

Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, says he is suffering from mild long COVID symptoms.

He told The Washington Post he was first infected with COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, and he’s still experiencing some mild symptoms. He told The Post his nerves have had a constant tingling sensation. “It feels like all my nerves have had like five cups of coffee,” Kaine told the Post.

“I know how my body felt before I got covid, I know how it felt when I got covid, and it’s not gone back to where it was before,” Kaine told the Post. “That gives me an understanding for people who talk about these long covid symptoms.”

Kaine said he can do everything he did before his infection, but he referenced his own health experience when he introduced the bill.

“As someone with mild long COVID symptoms, I am glad to introduce this legislation to help address the lingering effects of the coronavirus,” Kaine said in a statement announcing the legislation. “This legislation will help improve our understanding of and response to long COVID by expanding resources for those dealing with the long-term impacts of the virus.”

The legislation would finance research on long COVID. Kaine’s office said the bill would collect more data and offer more training to healthcare providers in treating those with long COVID, an aspect of the coronavirus that doctors and researchers are still struggling to understand.

The measure would also finance public education efforts aimed at both patients and providers to help generate more awareness about the symptoms of long COVID. And Kaine’s office said the bill would foster partnerships with community organizations so people with long covid could get the necessary social and legal services.

As part of the new federal plan to combat COVID-19, President Joe Biden’s administration said last week the government would invest more resources to detect, prevent and treat long COVID.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said the government will be expanding its research and data sharing efforts with academic and industry partners.

“If we get the funding from Congress, we will launch new Centers of Excellence in communities across the country to provide high-quality care to individuals experiencing long COVID and better understand the symptoms they’re facing,” Becerra said at a news briefing Wednesday with other top administration officials.

Researchers are still striving to understand the causes of long COVID and why some people are affected differently. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has said some people can experience long COVID even if they only had mild symptoms when they were infected with the coronavirus.

Symptoms of long COVID include fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing, difficulty concentrating, chest pain and stomach pain, among others, the CDC says.

A study published in Nature Medicine last month showed COVID-19 can pose long-term risks of cardiovascular problems. The study of more than 153,000 veterans with COVID-19 showed that after the initial 30 days of infection, those who have had COVID-19 are at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, heart failure and a host of other issues.

Another study published in Jama Network Open found that more than half of those who had COVID-19 suffered some effects of long COVID six months later. The most common issues were functional mobility impairments, pulmonary abnormalities, and mental health disorders. The study also suggested that symptoms of long COVID could challenge the capacity of healthcare systems, particularly in less affluent countries.

It’s difficult to get a precise figure on how many Americans have long COVID. The Government Accountability Office says anywhere from 7.7 million to 23 million Americans have developed long COVID. As many as 1 million Americans have had to stop working due to long covid.

Last July, Biden said those with long COVID could qualify for protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, including accommodations at work and school.

U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., are sponsoring the legislation with Kaine.

Kaine was also a prime sponsor of the Dr. Lorna Breen Act, which directs more grants and programs to address mental health and burnout among healthcare providers.