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We caught up with Ed to talk about why these cases matter.
The conversation that follows has been edited and condensed.
Caroline Mimbs Nyce: What’s a “long-hauler”? And what do we know about them?
Ed Yong: Long-haulers are people who have had COVID-19 symptoms for a long time. Many of them have been sick for four months, five months, six months. And there are probably hundreds of thousands of them. We still don’t know the actual numbers.
One of the most common things you’ll hear from long-haulers is that doctors have told them repeatedly that their symptoms are just anxiety or stress or in their heads. And to be clear, these are people who have crushing fatigue. They have all these incredibly intense physical symptoms, and they are being turned away by people who just don’t believe them.
Caroline: In today’s piece, you argue that the long-hauler story is a kind of microcosm of the pandemic. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Ed: We need to remember that a lot of the pandemic has less to do with personal problems and mostly with systemic failures. And I think in some ways, the long-hauler story reminds us of that.
We often think of recovery from a disease as having to do with an individual—you fight off the virus—but so much of actual recovery depends on the entire ecosystem around us. It depends on whether doctors are willing to treat you, and whether employers give you time to recover.
Caroline: This is your second time reporting on long-haulers. Why do you find this story in particular so important?
Ed: I think that this is probably the most important pandemic reporting that I do, because this group of people have just been ignored for a very long period of time. When I first started writing about them in June, almost no one was talking about them. And after my piece came out, I got so many emails—like, hundreds of emails—from people saying, “I finally feel seen.”
This aspect of the pandemic is not going away. And I think we need to keep on talking about this, because if we don’t, then we really don’t fully understand the COVID-19 story, and we leave so many people in the lurch.
One question, answered: A 72-year-old reader named Alison writes in from Berkeley, California:
My 6-year-old grandson’s school is fully online, and he needs someone to supervise him during class (six hours every day). But our family bubble is slightly complicated now that my 3-year-old granddaughter’s preschool is open.
My doctor said I could monitor my grandson if we both wore masks. But another expert friend said grandparents shouldn’t even try to help out with child care right now. Is there any way to do it safely?
James Hamblin responds in his latest “Paging Dr. Hamblin” column:
This is a difficult situation, emblematic of one that so many families are facing as schools reopen and carefully curated bubbles slowly burst. When a child is in contact with a dozen other students, and those students are in contact with their families, and their families are in contact with co-workers, the risk of transmission can grow precipitously.
Read the rest here. Every Wednesday, James takes questions from readers about health-related curiosities, concerns, and obsessions. He’s also answered:
Have one? Email James at email@example.com.
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