The ongoing labor shortage is one of the key puzzles in the pandemic economy. Business owners are struggling to find workers during the “Great Resignation.” New research suggests that there is another, more troubling, factor to explain the country’s shrinking workforce. It is long COVID.

Millions of Americans suffer from long-term symptoms due to COVID-19. Many are unable to work because of chronic health problems. Katie Bach, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and nonresident, stated that she was shocked when she began to crunch the numbers of COVID-related workers who had left the labor market.

The disease can cause people to become incapacitated for several months and have persistent symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, heart palpitations, and memory loss.

Bach said that it was much larger than I imagined, according to CBS MoneyWatch. “Then it was like, “Why is nobody talking about this?”

Bach’s figure is a good example of how the country’s labor force has fallen to 2.2 million people, a problem that is causing problems for many employers. Some business owners blamed additional unemployment aid for keeping workers off the streets earlier in the crisis. These benefits ended in September and the labor market has not fully recovered.

Dr. Philip A. Chan is an associate professor of medicine at Brown University and works on the long COVID Initiative. He said that long COVID could prevent millions from work or force them to reduce their hours.

Dr. Chan stated that there is a wide range of symptoms, from minor to severe and can prevent people from working. It’s more than a question of “Yes or no”: Can people work? We’re seeing people cut back on hours and reduce the scope of their work.

Bach’s research contributes to the discussion about America’s current labor shortage. As the pandemic approaches its two-year anniversary, businesses are still struggling to retain and recruit workers.

Record numbers of employees are leaving their jobs, some for better-paying positions and others to start their own businesses. Others are still struggling with COVID-related health problems.

These findings highlight the warning signs that advocates for COVID long-term patients have been warning about since the beginning of the pandemic. It became apparent that COVID-19 sufferers continued to experience symptoms for several months even after they had recovered from their initial infection.

According to Lisa McCorkell (researcher at the Patient-Led Research Collaborative), the impact of COVID is greater than people think. It affects the financial well-being of COVID patients as well as the wider economy. This group was founded by COVID patients who were the first to conduct research.

McCorkell stated, “This is a huge issue for workers.” “What we observed in our collaborative patient-led research study was that nearly two-thirds had to cut back on hours or quit completely,” McCorkell said.

She said, “A conservative estimate of long COVID cases is nearly 19 million — any percentage of those unable to work in the future will have significant economic impacts.”

“How can I support myself?”

Charlie McCone, 32 years old, is one of those workers who suffers from long COVID. He is currently on short-term disability because he contracted the chronic illness in March 2020 after a COVID-19-related infection. McCone stated that his long-term COVID symptoms had improved in 2021. However, he contracted COVID-19 again.

McCone stated that “now my symptoms of fatigue, cognitive issues and other problems have gotten worse” and are more severe when McCone is working. McCone said, “You can manage pain if necessary, but you cannot work through being without energy.” “I feel like a cell phone battery that is always dying.”

McCone, who lives near San Francisco, stated that he is able to make ends meet on his short-term disability payments. These replaced approximately two-thirds his income. However, he has had to dip into his savings partly to pay for long COVID-19 treatment costs. McCone is concerned that his disability will expire in March and that he may not be able to return to his job as a marketer.

This instills fear, the feeling of being trapped and unable to get out of bed. It’s like asking, “How can I support myself?” McCone stated. McCone said, “My recovery has been slow and it’s very debilitating.” “I might be able [to do] one to two hours of work per week right now.”

McCone stated that long-term sufferers are often in uncertainty because there is no approved treatment or prognosis for the disease. This means they don’t know how long it will take to heal and what treatments might be available. McCone noted that some people are willing to pay thousands of dollars for expensive treatment.

McCone, a COVID patient for many years who struggled to work before being disabled, expressed frustration at the lack of discussion about the possibility of developing a chronic disease.

He told CBS MoneyWatch that this was the most frustrating thing for people with long COVID. “It was a mild infection that left me still sick two years later.”

He said, “People need to be afraid, but also informed.”

Researchers claim they are investigating ways to diagnose and treat COVID. Patients feel anxious because of the unknowns.

Dr. Chan from Brown University stated that “one of the biggest questions we have is how long it will last and what long people have these persistent symptoms.” “We are only two-years into this pandemic and it feels like forever at times.”

What is the prevalence of long COVID?

Experts predict that long-term COVID will increase due to the rise in Omicron variant infection. Although some studies have shown that vaccines may be effective in preventing long COVID cases, other studies show that many people who are vaccinated still suffer from the chronic condition.

COVID-19 sufferers who have been long-term can face difficulties in finding accommodations at work. They may also not believe their symptoms, according to Natalie Lambert, an associate professor of medicine from the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Lambert observed that “You don’t seem sick” is the most frequent thing people hear people say to them. “It’s a dark aspect of American culture that people don’t believe in people unless they are sick.

She said that many COVID patients who have been suffering for a long time are still working despite their inability to function. Lambert stated that people in work are trying to maintain their work performance and conceal the fact they have an invisible illness, so they don’t lose their jobs.

However, it can be difficult for employers, insurers, and other parties to accept that someone is long COVID. Lambert stated that there is no medical definition for long COVID. Patients may not be eligible for disability benefits if their doctor fails to diagnose the condition or enters the correct medical codes in their records.

Long COVID is a complex condition that leaves many unanswered questions, such as how many people are affected by chronic, long-term illness. According to University of California at Davis researchers, about 1 in 3 COVID victims have long-term symptoms even though they had a mild infection.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 100 million Americans aged 18-65 have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic. Using the UC Davis number, this means that about 30 million people could have suffered from COVID-19 for a long time since the pandemic. Many of these individuals are now able to return to work after they recover enough.

Bach’s research into how many COVID patients quit work or reduce their hours based on their long-term symptoms led her to conclude that around 1.1 million people have lost their full-time jobs due to long COVID. About 2.1 million have reduced their hours as a result of their symptoms. Bach estimates that this amounts to about 1.6million full-time workers who are not working in the economy.

Bach stated that more research is needed to understand long COVID and asked why it isn’t more prominent in discussions about economy and public health.

Bach stated that he doesn’t think we will be able to take any steps to address this crisis until we fully understand the economic burden. Understanding the economic burden of long COVID will be the most effective way to get people to start to take this seriously.