What if it has been weeks or months since you’ve had COVID-19, but you’re just not feeling better? It might be Long COVID – one of the post-COVID conditions defined by the CDC – a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with COVID-19. Long COVID can happen to anyone who has had COVID-19, even if it was a mild or asymptomatic infection. Recent data reports that approximately 10% – 30% of those with COVID-19 continue to experience symptoms weeks and months after their initial diagnosis. Some of the most common symptoms include fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, anxiety or depression.
The biology behind Long COVID is poorly understood, but there is emerging research to help guide medical and public health interventions. While there is currently no cure for Long COVID and recovery time may vary between patients, there are recommended treatments that may help.
In addition to its medical impact, Long COVID also has social and economic implications, particularly for populations already disproportionately burdened by health inequity. Fatigue and pain can affect mobility, concentrating at work is harder with brain fog, and anxiety and depression can alter one’s outlook on life. The Test & Trace Corps’ AfterCare program supports New Yorkers with Long COVID by connecting them with resources that meet their health and social needs.
The AfterCare program, which sits within the Take Care pillar of Test & Trace, connects New Yorkers with Long COVID to health and social needs resources that will support them in their recovery. As one of the first programs in the world of its kind to address Long COVID, AfterCare strives to better understand the health, social, and economic impacts of Long COVID, and to provide New Yorkers with the resources that best support them. AfterCare has three programmatic pillars: Access, Awareness, and Advocacy. Access means connecting Long COVID patients to resources that may ease their recovery. Awareness includes educational initiatives that increase knowledge about Long COVID among health professionals and the public. Through Advocacy, we foster a space for clients to advocate for their own health and social needs.
Because Long COVID impacts many different facets of an individual’s life – from employment to housing to emotional support systems – the AfterCare program connects with clients through a holistic, more inclusive approach to care. AfterCare resources include physical health, mental health, community support, and financial support. Through these resources, clients can find what they need, including referrals to specialized care, mental health resources, and community support programs.
AfterCare launched in April 2021 with SMS outreach to former Test &Trace clients; in July, AfterCare began telephonic outreach through its AfterCare Navigation program. To date, AfterCare has texted over 200,000 historic Test & Trace COVID-19 cases and referred over 1,500 clients to health and social resources over the phone. AfterCare also has a public-facing website (nyc.gov/aftercare) along with a public hotline that New Yorkers can call to get tailored support from an AfterCare Navigator.
COVID Centers of Excellence provide short- to long-term care for those recovering from COVID-19. They offer services such as:
- Lung care and supplemental (extra) oxygen
- Heart care
- X-rays, scans, and ultrasounds
- Mental health services for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychological distress
- Rooms to safely isolate (set apart) patients who may have COVID-19 or are being tested for COVID-19
Resources to find a primary care provider are also available. In addition, there are tips for self-care and management for symptoms like fatigue or inability to smell. These strategies may include lifestyle changes and food/home safety education.
Having lingering symptoms of COVID-19 can also affect a client’s mental and emotional well-being. AfterCare provides resources for mental health through NYC Well, a free, confidential mental health support program that is available in over 200 languages, 24/7, and for all 365 days in a year.
Additionally, the Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health provides further mental health support with more specific resources relating to coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Being socially active and connecting with other individuals within the community that have had similar experiences is another important aspect of health. Through working with an independent support group created by and for people who have or had COVID-19, Body Politic creates a space that recovering clients might need so that they know that they are not alone.
AfterCare provides the resources to join and connect with likeminded individuals through Body Politic. People can join this community, regardless of immigration status.
Long COVID affects people in a variety of ways, and sometimes it can have a financial impact. In additional to physical health and social or mental health services, AfterCare connects clients with resources in:
- Accessing low and no-cost healthcare (NYC Care) for those who do not quality for or cannot afford health insurance
- Paid sick leave
- Paid family leave for family care
- New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services (HRA/DSS)
- Funeral assistance
- Housing resources
Because much about Long COVID remains to be researched, AfterCare can help providers gain insights on Long COVID client needs and adapt resources accordingly. As the program grows, more resources will be added and created, as AfterCare becomes an opportunity for people to advocate for their health. In many ways, AfterCare can serve as a model for other Long COVID-focused programs in other regions, as well as an example of what “treating the whole person” can be.