Long COVID Affecting Thousands in Nebraska

July 1, 2022, 5 a.m. ·

FFP - Long Covid Sufferer 1
Cindy Vanek drinks a cup of water while standing on her apartment balcony. She watches more TV and reads more than she used to, while spending less time doing things she now struggles to do, like kayaking or going out with friends. “I’m just different than I was,” she said. “I feel like I’ve aged and slowed down.” Photo by Jazari Kaul, Flatwater Free Press

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Long COVID - lingering symptoms that many people who contract the coronavirus suffer from - is affecting tens-of-thousands of Nebraskans.

Recently Nebraska Public Media News' media partner the Flatwater Free Press looked at the issue and profiled one Nebraskan who suffers from it.

Nebraska Public Media News' Geoff Roth talked with the article author RoseAnn Moring, and Cindy Vanek, who was profiled in the article.

GR: Roseanne, I'd like to start with you. Tell us a little bit about what long COVID is, and how big of a problem it is here in Nebraska.

RM: So, long COVID, or doctors call it post COVID symptoms, is when you're recovered from COVID. There's not virus in your body, but you are experiencing negative symptoms. So one thing that comes up a lot is brain fog. People get COVID, they recover, but then they still are more confused than they were before. But really, there's a variety of symptoms of long COVID. I mean, everything from insomnia to heart issues to lung issues. There is some percentage of people, somewhere between 10 and 40% of people that get COVID, they recover, and then they have these symptoms. Some of them are mild, some of them are more severe. And we don't really know a lot about it, a lot of their research has focused on actual COVID. The long COVID initiative has done some research on this, and they have a model, and they have estimated that 131,000 Nebraskans have experienced post COVID symptoms, and that 43,500 of those have become disabled. So, that model means that the cost of long COVID is $2.3 billion in economic costs in Nebraska. So it's a pretty huge issue. That hasn't gotten a lot of attention, as we've all focused on the immediate, like people are in the hospital because of COVID

GR: .Cindy, obviously, you're one example of someone who's experienced this, you know, tell us a little bit about when you first thought something might be wrong beyond the couple of weeks where you had COVID, and you recovered from it?

CV: Sure. So it was almost immediately I had COVID for about two weeks, and then almost to the day of two weeks of getting COVID, that evening, I was sitting at a desk and my heart rate just shot up. And I wear a Fitbit. So I could tell my heart rate was up to like 130. And I was just sitting down and it felt so weird. And I thought that might just be a fluke, I didn't know what was going on. But then it started happening again and again, almost daily. And it was really spooky. I'd get lightheaded. It was hard to function. I remember one time trying to sweep my floor. And after just a couple couple seconds of it, I was so lightheaded and my heart rate went so high, I had to stop and lay down. And just very out of the normal. I had never experienced anything like that before.

GR: Over the last couple of years, how would you say it's changed your life.

CV: It's changed it a lot. I have, I feel like I've aged rapidly in that span. I used to be pretty active and just up for anything. And now I am very limited in what I do. I have to be very cautious and careful because I can think about everything I do, everything I eat, how much sleep, because I know how sensitive my body is to those things and how that will trigger how I'm feeling later. It's gotten more manageable with time. For the first while it was very debilitating where I even had to adjust my work schedule, and things like that. And I just stayed at home all the time, couldn't go out and do things. Even now. Like I'm just not as active as I was. I'll hear about things I normally would have liked to do. And now I don't. I'm just not going to take that risk of doing it in case I feel worse.

GR: Roseanne, you've you've talked to doctors, when you were putting your story together. Do they have any concrete explanation for why this happens to people?

RM: There are several theories. One that came up a lot was the possibility that it's nerve damage. So your heart is working and your brain is working. But the information isn't getting to where it needs to go correctly. The good news is that nerves can heal. And we're seeing people get better from long COVID.

GR: Cindy, in the article you talked a bit about how people don't necessarily believe you, they they don't think this exists. They don't have knowledge of it. Tell us a little bit about that.

CV: Yeah, sometimes I meet people and I kind of explain why I'm walking slower or why I might need to take a rest while we're doing something and they are just, they've either not heard of it, or don't realize the extent or it's been over a year and a half since I originally got COVID. And sometimes I'll talk to people and they'll be like, 'Oh, you're still dealing with that?'. And they're very surprised. And they're just like, 'Oh, could it be anxiety or you're just not getting enough sleep', and it's very much not, that there's very real physical symptoms that are happening that are beyond just a normal scope of being tired or something like that.

(This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity)

To read Roseann's article, click here.