Public debate about the COVID-19 pandemic understandably focuses on the number of deaths from the disease. That number also plays a major role in the debate about whether the virus is serious enough to warrant the restrictions imposed to minimize its spread of the disease. But death is not the only outcome that should worry us.

Many, many thousands of Americans who have been sick enough to be hospitalized, have survived. We don’t talk much about them right now, but probably will in the future, because surviving doesn’t always mean a complete return to good health.

How many people who recover from COVID-19 will have permanent health problems? It’s an important question given that the virus appears to cause, in some people:  liver damage, kidney damage severe enough to require dialysis, strokes, heart damage, blood vessel, inflammation, various neurologic ailments.

Many have been on mechanical ventilators for extended periods, and that is also known to sometimes cause longer-term complications.

How common are these manifestations? How serious and how permanent are the consequences? Like so much else about COVID-19, we do not know. But there will certainly be a substantial number of COVID-19 survivors whose lives are affected by the complications. Their quality of life will suffer, their medical expenses will continue to pile up, and their ability to work will be reduced.

Shouldn’t any discussion of the costs of resuming “business as usual” take this into account?

lodiza Lepore


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