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Portrait of Sonia

Behind the Numbers

An energetic hairstylist loses her health and livelihood to long COVID


2023 CHAS: Long COVID

Long COVID has brought harm to lives and livelihoods.

May 8, 2024

COVID-19 never ended for thousands of Coloradans. 

Nearly half of Coloradans 16 and older (48.8%) said they had tested positive for COVID-19 at some point since the start of the pandemic. One in seven of those said their symptoms lasted three months or longer. This is called long COVID. It has affected more than 300,000 Coloradans.

Long COVID’s effects have been disastrous. Almost half of people with long COVID had to take time off school or work. Some of them had to quit working or apply for disability benefits.

The CHAS shows that long COVID is a profound challenge on both the personal and societal levels. Policymakers must appreciate the breadth of the problem so they can plan an effective response. 

Widespread infection: The 2023 CHAS provides data on the enormous sweep of the pandemic. Nearly half of Coloradans 16 and older (48.8%) said they tested positive for COVID-19 at a clinic or using a home test. This equates to over 2.2 million people. It’s likely that many more had the virus but never took a test or had a false negative result.

Long COVID scope: The CHAS reveals that one in seven Coloradans who got COVID-19 (14%) have dealt with long COVID. However, this is an undercount. Many people came down with COVID-19 but never had a positive test, and only people who said they tested positive got the long COVID questions. Even with this undercount, the survey shows more than 300,000 Coloradans 16 and older had to deal with COVID symptoms for three months or more.

Health effects: Long COVID often upends the lives of those it afflicts. The CHAS provided an option for people to describe their lingering symptoms. Many said they suffered from body fatigue and brain fog, things that got in the way of activities and hobbies they used to enjoy. Many still have breathing problems, like a cough or the need for oxygen or an inhaler.

Economic effects: Nearly half of people who experienced long COVID had to take time off work or school to deal with their symptoms. About a third of these Coloradans had to reduce the hours that they were working, with about 7% having to leave their job and 8% applying for disability benefits. This represents serious economic implications for these Coloradans, as they could not keep up with their jobs and had to find other ways to support themselves.

Food and shelter disparities: In addition, those who reported long COVID symptoms were over three times as likely to experience housing instability and over twice as likely to experience food insecurity. Since many Coloradans had to leave their jobs or cut down on hours worked, they might not have had enough money to afford other basic needs. Another explanation is that social disparities that existed before the pandemic made it more likely that disadvantaged people would suffer from long COVID.

Disparities in sex and disability: Women were more likely than men to report long COVID symptoms (15.8% to 10.7%, respectively). Those who live with a mental, physical, or emotional condition were also more likely to suffer from long COVID symptoms (30.3% compared with 11.4% who do not have mental, physical, or emotional conditions, respectively).

A challenge for society: One legacy of COVID-19 is a sudden increase in disability. People who used to be healthy now struggle to breathe, to think clearly, and to take care of themselves. One fallout from the disease is felt in the labor market, which lost tens of thousands of workers. Colorado and the world will need medical advancements and policy adjustments to cope with the surge in disability and its impact on the economy. 

Finally, the CHAS results show the consequences of infection and the need for continued vigilance against COVID-19. It’s more than a nasty illness. It’s a potentially life-altering event.