ORLANDO, Fla. — When Amanda Cravey came down with COVID-19 in December 2021, it felt like a mild cold – until a week later, when she said that "all of her systems went haywire."
Her heart raced, she struggled to breathe and she experienced bouts of brain fog: a common neurological effect of COVID-19. But the symptoms didn’t go away. Ten months later, Cravey is still recovering.
Cravey is among an estimated 7.5% of adults in the U.S. suffering from post-COVID conditions lasting more than three months. Despite broad public interest in the issue of Long COVID, treatments for the condition vary in effectiveness from person to person, and aren’t widely available.
What You Need To Know
- Long COVID specialists say not enough care available in Central Florida
- An October study found over 40% of patients had not fully recovered months after COVID-19 infection
- An estimated 7.5% of adults in the U.S. suffer from post-COVID conditions
There are no Long COVID clinics in the Orlando area, which means patients like Cravey are forced to reconcile with long drives to COVID-19 clinics around the state and even longer wait-lists.
“The long-haul COVID clinics out there, ours for example (are) swamped with patients,” said Dr. Irene Estores, a physician who runs a Long COVID clinic in Gainesville through UF Health. “The patients have to wait.”
For some, arriving at a Long COVID clinic comes only after repeated fruitless attempts to find treatments elsewhere.
“I’d seen a ton of different specialists and doctors and nobody could figure out what was going on,” said Cravey. On multiple occasions, she was hospitalized after her heart rate spiked and she fainted.
Many Long COVID patients struggle with their mental health.
“There are some people who do have nuances of anxiety and depression from Covid,” said Dr. Estores. “But even if that were not the case, just living with an illness or a condition that has changed your life and you have all these things to deal with is very emotionally and mentally distressing."
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that for COVID survivors, rates of depression, anxiety and even suicide are higher than in the rest of the population.
For Megan Prevost, who lives in Orlando and has been seeking treatment for post-COVID conditions since she initially came down with COVID-19 in 2020, living with prolonged COVID-19 symptoms came with worsened anxiety. The cost of treatments compounded that anxiety.
“I have about $14,000 in medical debt,” she said. “I’ve actually canceled appointments because I just couldn’t afford it.”
Since she got sick, Prevost developed such intense fatigue that walking long distances became impossible. Without the money to afford a wheelchair, she is crowdsourcing the funds to buy one online.
The problem of unaffordable treatments is compounded by the fact that many people suffering from post-COVID conditions are unable to work.
An August study by the Brookings Institute suggests that up to four million people have left the workforce due to persistent symptoms following a case of COVID.
Cravey, who teaches fourth grade at an elementary school in Orlando, took nearly two months of unpaid leave while her symptoms were at their worst.
“I would lay in bed, and I would always wait to put my feet on the floor. Because I would always pray, ‘please let this be the morning I put my feet on the floor and be normal again’ and it just wasn’t,” said Cravey.
For her, recovery started with leaving the house and walking just a block. After months of physical rehabilitation and therapy through the Mayo Clinic, Cravey is not only able to walk greater distances, she’s also back in the classroom teaching. She says letters from her fourth grade students gave her hope.
“I was listening to my husband manage the house yet again another night and I was reading through the cards and the tears were just rolling down my face,” said Cravey. “I just knew that I needed to get back.”
Dr. Estores said outcomes for Long COVID patients would be improved if better funding options existed for clinicians specializing in the condition.
“There must be an investment to support long-haul COVID clinics,” she said. “I mean, this is a clinic that I am running on a shoestring.”
The Gainesville physician is far from alone in ringing the alarm about post-COVID-19 conditions. In October, a study of a Scottish population found that nearly half had not fully recovered from COVID-19 months after infection.