“Survival is not recovery”—a phrase with roots in the language of sexual-abuse counseling—is turning out to have grim relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the World Health Organization reports that 80 percent of COVID infections are “mild or asymptomatic,” and most patients recover after one or two weeks, thousands of people now say they’ve been coping with serious symptoms for a month or longer. In online support groups, these people call themselves “long-haulers.”
Ed Yong, who has been covering the pandemic for The Atlantic, wrote about long-haulers in an article published June 4. He interviewed nine of them, including Vonny LeClerc, a 32-year-old Glasgow resident:
Most have never been admitted to an ICU or gone on a ventilator, so their cases technically count as “mild.” But their lives have nonetheless been flattened by relentless and rolling waves of symptoms that make it hard to concentrate, exercise, or perform simple physical tasks. Most are young. Most were previously fit and healthy. “It is mild relative to dying in a hospital, but this virus has ruined my life,” LeClerc said. “Even reading a book is challenging and exhausting. What small joys other people are experiencing in lockdown—yoga, bread baking—are beyond the realms of possibility for me.”
Scott Krakower, a 40-year-old psychiatrist in New York, told the “Today” show on July 1 that he was diagnosed with COVID-19 in April and continues to experience symptoms. Melanie Montano, 32, tested positive for the virus in mid-March; in mid-June, when she was interviewed for “Today,” she still had trouble breathing and experienced waves of fatigue. Other long-haulers have tested negative for COVID-19, but, as Yong writes, “that doesn’t mean they don’t have COVID-19. Diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2 miss infections up to 30 percent of the time, and these false negatives become more likely a week after a patient’s first symptoms appear.”
Long haul, noun and adjective, was originally a term used by railroad operators in the US; the OED’s earliest citation is from 1839. The length of transportation determined the rate paid; a longer haul meant a lower rate. By the end of the 19th century, “long haul” was being used figuratively to signify a long or difficult process. The term is now used in the long-distance trucking industry; in fact, long-haul truck drivers are the subject of special Centers for Disease Control recommendations for the prevention of COVID-19 transmission.
Listen to an NPR interview with Ed Yong about long-haulers.
Learn more about a long-haulers’ research group whose goal is “to collect and distribute data on those with COVID-19 prolonged recoveries – a group that has so far been under studied – to both the general public and to medical professionals.”