WASHINGTON (AP) — Confronting the pandemic’s lasting shadow, President Joe Biden on Tuesday ordered a brand new nationwide analysis push on lengthy COVID, whereas additionally directing federal companies to assist sufferers coping with the mysterious and debilitating situation.
Biden assigned the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate an pressing new initiative throughout federal companies, constructing on analysis already beneath approach on the National Institutes of Health.
He additionally directed federal companies to assist sufferers and medical doctors by offering science-based finest practices for treating lengthy COVID, sustaining entry to insurance coverage protection, and defending the rights of staff dealing with the uncertainties of the malaise. Of explicit concern are results on psychological well being.
Long COVID is the catch-all time period for a hydra-headed situation whose signs can embrace mind fog, recurring shortness of breath, ache and fatigue. Rough estimates are that it impacts as many as 1 in 3 individuals who get well from COVID-19, though the severity and length of signs fluctuate. Despite intense investigation, the causes of lengthy COVID aren’t nicely understood and therapy largely focuses on serving to sufferers deal with their signs as they attempt to rebalance each day routines.
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The White House additionally acknowledged that lengthy COVID seems to be a incapacity, which means that sufferers could possibly be entitled to the safety of federal legal guidelines that prohibit discrimination based mostly on well being circumstances and name for lodging to permit individuals to steer productive lives.
“The administration recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in new members of the disability community and has had a tremendous impact on people with disabilities,” mentioned a White House overview.
Some unbiased consultants praised the administration for its complete plan however famous the shortage of a timeline for outcomes.
“This is a very important move on the part of the Biden administration to acknowledge that long COVID is real, that it is a significant threat, and that much more needs to be done,” mentioned Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore well being commissioner and commentator on the pandemic. “The emphasis on treatment for long COVID, and recognizing that this could be a source of ongoing disability, are long overdue.”
A outstanding advocate for COVID sufferers sensed a breakthrough.
“This is the first effort that truly comports with the needs of people who are suffering,’’ said Diana Berrent, founder of Survivor Corps, a support group that connects patients with government and private researchers.
Advocates have been clamoring “for the government to create a command center for long COVID,” she added. “Up until now, that hasn’t existed.’’
“I see this as a global, comprehensive approach to an extremely thorny issue that has previously received a scattershot approach,” Berrent said.
Medical research thus far has led to theories about what causes long COVID, but no single root. One theory revolves around lingering infection or virus remnants that may trigger inflammation in the body. Another possibility involves autoimmune system responses that mistakenly attack normal cells. Researchers are also investigating the role of tiny clots.
The White House said Biden’s order will expand and build on a $1 billion research study already underway at NIH, called the RECOVER Initiative. One goal is to speed signing up 40,000 people with and without long COVID into the study. Around that effort, Health and Human Services will coordinate a government-wide research plan on long COVID.
HHS will also deliver a report to the nation on long COVID later this year. “Millions of Americans may be struggling with lingering health effects,” mentioned HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “COVID is having effects long after the actual virus has escaped us.”
Biden’s order puts a major focus on treatment. An HHS unit called the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality will investigate best practices and get useful guidance to doctors, hospitals and patients. The Department of Veterans Affairs, which already has 18 facilities running long COVID programs, will serve as an incubator of ideas and strategies. The administration is seeking $20 million from Congress for “centers of excellence” to develop templates for care.
Dr. Fernando Carnavali of Mount Sinai’s Center for Post-COVID Care in New York, said he understands complaints that the government hasn’t made enough progress on long COVID.
“For our culture today, which needs answers yesterday, it’s just hard,’’ Carnavali said. “In chronic disease, in general it’s not how it works. We have other examples, from HIV, answers did not come right away.”
Finally, the administration said its plan will provide direct support for patients by safeguarding access to insurance coverage and extending the umbrella of civil rights protections to people with long COVID. In keeping with Biden’s focus on reducing racial and ethnic disparities in health care, part of the emphasis will be on minority communities that have borne a high toll from COVID-19.
Federal health programs, which can serve as a model for private insurance, will look for ways to make sure that treatments for long COVID are covered and paid for. “The administration is working to make long COVID care as accessible as possible,” mentioned a White House overview of Biden’s plan.
AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner contributed to this report.
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