“Long-term impacts from COVID-19 are more likely to affect women than men,” Levine said. “A study from France found an average age of COVID-19 long haulers of 40 years of age, and many of those long haulers are health care workers who maybe had a significant exposure to the virus.”
A person is generally considered recovered from covid-19 about 30 days after they test positive or exhibit symptoms, according to state health officials.
But that doesn’t mean the virus-stricken person has returned to normal health, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Wednesday.
She called people who have lingering effects of the disease “long-haulers” and said what happens to them is particularly concerning health officials.
In Pennsylvania, about 82% of the more than 150,000 people who have tested positive are considered to be recovered, Levine said.
How many of those people are long-haulers isn’t yet known, she said.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in July showed that 35% — 95 of 270 people involved in the national study — hadn’t returned to their usual health. Among those 18 to 34-years-old, nearly 20% — 9 of 48 people involved in the study — weren’t yet feeling like they did before contracting covid-19.
“We’re learning as we go along,” Levine said.
It isn’t yet known what treatment or care long-haulers may need in the future, she said.
Levine said she supports Gov. Tom Wolf and initiatives at the state and federal level to ensure health care for all despite any preexisting conditions.
“We cannot go backwards,” Levine said.
Covid-19 may now be considered a pre-existing condition and any changes to the Affordable Care Act that end the requirement that these people can’t be denied care could be catastrophic, Levine said.
Long-haulers need to “get the treatment they need as long as they need it,” she said.
Levine also thanked the more than 173,000 people who have “app-ed up” and are using COVID Alert PA, the state’s covid-19 smartphone application.
Using Bluetooth technology, it measures time and distance between people using the app. If an app user later tests positive for the coronavirus — and reports that fact to the app — other users are notified when and where they came into close contact with that person.
Levine is in regular contact with federal health officials. The state is preparing for an increase in cases as colder weather sets in and flu season begins.
It isn’t yet known what happens if people get covid-19 and influenza at the same time, she said.
Levine would not speculate about when a covid vaccine will be ready.
“You can’t set a date on science,” Levine said.