Katie Bach, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was not involved in the report, said the study showed that “we have a group of people who got long Covid and at least up until now have been unable to get back to work, and it is a nontrivial number of people.”
She said the report reflects only a slice of the work force: employees with workplace exposure to the virus who are knowledgeable enough about workers’ compensation to file claims. It might include employees who are younger or sicker than the overall working population, while also missing other workers with long Covid, said Ms. Bach, whose own research suggests that about 500,000 people in the United States are currently not working because of long Covid.
The New York report also found some optimistic signals. Since the pandemic’s first wave in early 2020, long Covid cases decreased as a percentage of workers’ compensations claims and of Covid-related claims. The decrease coincided with the advent of vaccines, which studies suggest reduce the risk of long Covid, and with new coronavirus treatments, supporting the idea that if people can avoid becoming severely ill from their initial infection, they are less likely to experience long-term symptoms.
Still, Mr. Vasisht said the agency continued to receive claims for workers with long Covid, especially after surges in infections. The report also suggested that more employees than reflected in the data might have met the criteria for long Covid claims. The vast majority of all Covid-related claims, over 83 percent, were filed by essential workers — in occupations like health care, law enforcement and security services. But only 29 percent of their claims met the definition for long Covid, while 44 percent of nonessential workers met that definition.
That could be because “essential workers might not have been able to stay home from work beyond the required quarantine period,” the report said. And health care workers might have “self-treated their symptoms” rather than seeking medical care, the report said, adding “essential workers may have long Covid rates higher than the data suggests, creating a blind spot for policymakers.”
“A lot of people can’t afford to not work and so they’re working when they really shouldn’t be, continuing to work while they’re sick,” said Ms. Bach. She said that the experience of people with similar post-viral conditions like myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome suggests that some people who work despite their long Covid may have harder recoveries. “When people who have a condition whose hallmark symptoms are fatigue and brain fog go into work, they’re not going to be as productive and they’re probably reducing their odds of improvement,” she said.