The Long Term Impacts of COVID-19 on the Local Community

By Paul Hubbard and Fletcher Word

The U.S. economy is back on track, it appears, with a very solid jobs gain report for June – 850,000 new jobs. The health crisis appears to be improving greatly with about-67 percent of adults having at least one vaccine shot and the numbers of new cases at the lowest since the start of the crisis.

However, for those millions of individuals who contracted the virus – 34 million, they face the prospect of long-term concerns both from a health standpoint and an economic one.

Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, a physician and lecturer on global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School, has spoken of a study, published last week, which is the first one to compare brain scans both before and after a diagnosis of COVID-19. The researchers found a “loss in grey matter” in three areas of the brain.

“We’re seeing a shrinkage in the study in three main areas and these areas are responsible for taste, smell, memory and emotion,” said Dr. Nerurkar.

The anticipated long-term economic impact on individuals may be equally devastating. It’s an impact that the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy anticipated in a 2020 report as the pandemic was peaking.

“The revenue impact was manifold,” the report noted of the widespread economic devastation that was anticipated. “New COVID-19 care costs were far outstripping the available insurance coverage patients would like have; hospitals were seeing massive spikes in labor costs, overtime and procurement; elective surgeries which have long been a reliable profit stream disappeared as just about every appointment was cancelled to redirect staff and resources.”

Such long-term effects have been and will be felt particularly hard in Black and Brown communities across the nation.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine African Americans constitute 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for 20 percent of COVID-19 cases and more than 22 percent of COVID-19 deaths; Latinos, at 18 percent of the population account for 33 percent of new cases nationwide. Nearly 20 percent of U.S. counties are disproportionately Black and these counties have accounted for more than half of COVID-19 cases and almost 60 percent of COVID-19 deaths nationally.

In Lucas County, just as in the nation as a whole, the Black community has been devastated by COVID-19 and if individual examples are any indication, the devastation will continue for those unfortunate enough to have contracted the disease yet fortunate enough to have survived.

Suzette Cowell, CEO of the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union, is aware of the issues both personally and professionally.

Cowell contracted COVID-19 in March 2020 and was infected so severely that she was admitted to the hospital and intubated for a week and a half. After recovery, for many months the fatigue plagued her, limiting her ability to work for more than a few hours a day and, now, after more than a year later the “brain fog” still persists, she says – the memory loss that Dr. Nerurkar has described.

Financially she has been hit hard as well. Although well insured, her care resulted in a “lot of doctor bills; a lot of specialists and a lot of different kinds of tests,” that insurance did not cover. Fortunately, she had lots of family who were able to step in and take care of her in the immediate aftermath of release from the hospital when she couldn’t walk or care for herself. The financial burden and the long-time health issues persist however.

Cowell leads an institution that serves a host of individuals in the minority community and she sees first hand the widespread impact the virus has had both physically and financially on those she serves. She estimates that the credit union has lost about 400 members to COVID-19 in the last year and a half – that’s 400 deaths in the community or about 10 percent of the membership.

Grant money from government and private sources is coming to the credit union but little of it can be earmarked for individuals who are in the recovery mode – the ones most affected both physically and financially.

Helen Cooks, PhD, retired professor at the University of Toledo and founder and former director of Toledo Excel, contracted COVID-19 in November 2020. As a result of that disease, she then fell victim to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder of the immune system where the nerves are attacked by immune cells that causes weakness and tingling in arms and legs.

Cooks cannot walk and is wheelchair bound due to the impact of both diseases.

In a discussion about available monies, such as the $183,000,000 Toledo is set to receive from the federal government and the American Rescue Plan, Cooks questioned why a portion of the funds are not earmarked specifically for victims of the disease.

“If it wasn’t for victims of COVID-19, there would not be any money coming into Toledo,” she said noting that insurance doesn’t cover food, rent, some medication, some transportation, adult day care, some personal physical assistance. In addition, there are additional costs for day care for victims’ kids, out-of-pocket expenses, unemployment issues and a host of other expenses and loss of normal family activities such as education.

Cooks went to a nursing home after leaving the hospital and was given the wrong medication – also too much of the wrong medication. When she sought to go home, her insurance became an issue because it didn’t cover her necessary adult day care at home, even though being home was less expensive than being in a nursing home.

“There should be a special pot of COVID-19 money set aside for the victims and their families to cover those expenses,” she said.