We need to talk about long COVID.
Occurring after an initial COVID-19 infection, long COVID—also known as post-COVID condition—can cause lengthy cognitive impairments, such as brain fog, anxiety, generalized pain, sleep disturbances, and memory problems.
Long COVID may also leave people feeling alone and abandoned as Canada does not yet have robust physical or social support for those suffering from such symptoms. These debilitating ailments may prevent people from participating in the academic, athletic, or social events they enjoy.
It seems easier to ignore the possibility of long COVID and push for a return to “normal.” However, the threat long COVID poses to our health and communities is too great to overlook.
We urge readers to ask themselves: How is long COVID impacting you and other members of the Queen’s community? What steps might we take to create a safer and more supportive campus for everyone?
This past summer, one of us, Emma, experienced a third COVID infection. It brought with it long-term symptoms—including tiredness and a loss of taste and smell—that did not improve as expected over the following weeks.
These persistent symptoms were scary and unsettling. Lacking information and support, Emma could not understand what was happening to her own body and did not feel as though she had anyone with whom she could relate.
Long COVID is a new and unknown phenomenon. There’s no set treatment or rigid criterion for diagnosis, nor do we understand why certain people are affected while others are not. These factors contribute to the lack of support systems for those who suffer from long COVID.
While there’s still much to learn about long-COVID, there’s one thing we know for certain: long COVID can impact anyone, regardless of age or the severity of symptoms. Conversations around long COVID are often focused on older demographics, but we need to shift away from this narrative and remember anyone of any age can be impacted—post-secondary students included.
According to Statistics Canada, 33.4 per cent of adults aged 18-34 report new symptoms after initial recovery from a confirmed or suspected COVID infection. In addition, long COVID affects 10 to 20 per cent of the people who get COVID, and every infection increases a person’s risk of long COVID.
The current dialogue and policy surrounding COVID are that we need to learn to live with it. It’s easier to read about how we should return to “normal” instead of how to protect ourselves and others.
Unfortunately, this dialogue neglects how our current policies allow people to be infected with COVID multiple times, increasing their risk for long COVID. The return to normal policies is placing society on the precipice of mass disablement, a phenomenon that’s entirely preventable through collective action toward reducing spread.
Students’ lives have been turned upside down by COVID. The better part of the last three years seems, at best, like a fast-moving dream and, at worst, like a nightmare.
For this reason, we felt nervous about walking into one of our classes to do a presentation about long COVID. Given the widespread COVID fatigue, we didn’t know if anyone would be interested in what we had to say.
When we finished our presentation, we asked our class, “What did you know about long COVID before this presentation?” There was a short moment of reflection, then one person put their hand up, then another, and then another.
All these hands represented people who had a story about how long COVID has affected their lives, and there were far more stories than we expected. So many of our classmates had been impacted or had a friend or relative who was struggling with long COVID.
Students at Queen’s are already feeling and living with the life-altering effects of long COVID. We need to come together to increase our collective knowledge and awareness of long COVID, then focus on the measures we know prevent infection.
Emma and Rhiannon are fourth-year Health Studies students.
Covid-19, long COVID, Student health
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